Israel Travel Blog


Sports in Israel

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

Farming in Israel

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

Israel's Red Sea

Israel’s famous for many things, including religious landmarks, archaeological sites, vineyards, nature reserves and deserts. But what about its waters? Many people think instantly of the Mediterranean Sea if they envisage travelling to Israel for a beach holiday but there’s another option too - and a great one -The Red Sea.Kitesurfing in Eilat, Israel. Photo by Mor Shani on UnsplashWhere is the Red Sea located exactly? In the heart of the Middle East, sharing its marine waters with Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Eritrea, and Djibouti. An inlet of the Indian Ocean, it lies between Africa and Asia and the connection to the ocean is in its south, through the Gulf of Aden and the Bab el Mandeb strait. The etymology of the nameSo why is the Red Sea called the Red Sea? Well, ‘Red Sea’ is a direct translation of the Latin ‘Mare Rubrum’, the Greek ‘Erythra Thalassa’ and Arabic ‘Al Bahr Al-Ahmar’’. Geographers think it was so named because of the bright red-coloured flowers CyanobacteriaTrichodesmium Erythraeum that can be seen near the water's surface. Some geologists suggest that it refers to the mineral-rich red mountains. Historians have pointed out that it borders the Egyptian Desert which the ancient Egyptians called ‘Dashret’ or ‘red land’. It is also possible that the name derives from the Himyarite, a local clan whose own name means ‘red.’Ship in Eilat, the Read Sea, Israel.Photo by Dana R Shavit on UnsplashHistory of the Red Sea.Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and IsraelitesIt was the Ancient Egyptians who began the earliest known explorations of the Red Sea, whilst seeking commercial routes. One we know took place circa 2500 BCE and another 100 years later. In the book of Exodus, in the Hebrew Bible, the story is told of the journey the Jews made from Egypt to the Promised Land, fleeing slavery under a cruel Pharoah. Led by their leader, Moses, the Israelites miraculously crossed through a body of water called the ‘Yam Suph’ (in Hebrew this refers to the Red Sea), which parted before them. According to the narrative, the Egyptians chased them but God wrecked their chariot wheels and the water then returned, drowning the entire army. As for where Moses parted the Red Sea and his people crossed it exactly? Today, most scholars and archaeologists think it was around the ‘Aqaba finger’ area.In the 8th century, the Persians made reconnaissance missions to the area and soon after Greek navigators did the same. The Romans favoured the area as a way of trading with India and the Red Sea also became an important stopover on the mediaeval Spice Route. Sunset over the Red Sea.Photo by Eric Weber on UnsplashIn 1798, France, under the leadership of Napoleon, invaded Egypt and, in doing so, took control of the Red Sea. Napoleon failed in his conquest but one of the people who took part in the invasion - an engineer named Jean-Baptists Lepere - reinvented the plan for a canal. The Pharaohs had built several in ancient times but none had stood the test of time. After the Suez Canal opened, in 1869, the French, Italians and British shared the port. By the end of the Second World War, however, the Americans and Soviets became the dominant powers but after the Six-Day War in 1967, the canal was closed for eight years.Now, after many quiet years, the Red Sea is becoming an important trade port again - the Suez Canal links it to the Mediterranean and the Bab el Mandeb straits. This makes it an economic artery - more than 10% of seaborne cargo sails through its waters every year.Bordering countriesIsrael, Egypt and Jordan border the Red Sea on the northern shore, Saudi Arabia and Yemen border it on the eastern shore and Sudan, Egypt and Eritrea border it on the western shore. This makes the Red Sea of huge strategic importance - it lies between the continents of Africa and Asia, separating the Middle East and the Far East as well as Asia and Europe.The aerial view of the harmless whale shark in the Red Sea, Eilat, Israel.Photo by Et Yan on UnsplashGeology of the Red SeaThe Red Sea is part of an extensive rift system that includes from south to north the oceanic Sheba Ridge, the Gulf of Aden, the Afar region, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aqaba, the Gulf of Suez, and the Cairo basalt province. The Red Sea valley cuts through the Arabian-Nubian Massif. This was a continuous central mass of Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rocks that formed deep within the Earth under heat and pressure more than 540 million years ago.Oceanography of the Red SeaThe climate of the Red Sea is the result of two very different seasons; a northeasterly monsoon and a southwesterly monsoon. The Red Sea is the world's most northern tropical sea and home to over 1200 species of fish and around 10% of these have been found nowhere else. The many shallow shelves are also full of marine corals. There are also extensive shallow shelves, all noted for their marine life and corals, Acropora being the most common kind (it grows fast - up to a metre long - if not disturbed). There are no dangerous sharks (i.e. man-eaters) in the waters, but occasionally divers will see grey reef sharks. The world’s fastest fish also lives here - the sailfish can swim at speeds of up to 109 km (68 miles) per hour! Tropical fish that can be seen in the Red Sea include the clownfish, butterflyfish, Spangled Emperor, parrotfish, lionfish. Watch out for blue-spotted rays, giant Moray eels and barracuda, as well as turtles, the Titan Triggerfish and the long-nosed hawkfish.Fun fact: the pretty red and orange coloured clownfish was the inspiration for Disney’s ‘ Finding Nemo’. They live amongst rare anemones and whilst their jaws are not large, they can be aggressive when trying to protect their young, inflicting a few small bites on the odd diver!Hills in the Eilat area, the Red Sea coast, Israel.Photo by Josh Appel on UnsplashOilfields and mineral resources of the Red SeaThe Red Sea is quickly developing a reputation as one of the world’s largest offshore oil production areas. Historically, there have been many challenges to drilling - it has a rough seafloor, topography, complicated geology under thick salt deposits and also a delicate ecosystem. All this, as well as substantial drilling costs, meant that it was left untouched until recently.The company Saudi Aramco was the first to use a deepwater rig in the Red Sea after a 2009 seismic study indicated the presence of natural gas. In 2010, Sudan started drilling its first offshore exploration well, off their coastline. Canadian Oyster Oil and Gas Co. is now active in Djibouti, where there has been little exploration activity up to now. And after Israel and the United Arab Emirates established ties as part of the Abraham Accords, a ‘pipeline deal’ was signed to bring crude oil from the UAE to Eilat.The ecosystem of the Red SeaThe Red Sea has a delicate ecosystem and thriving biodiversity. This is mainly due to the coral reef ecosystem. It stretches for almost 2000 km (1,240 miles) along its coastline. Some of the reefs are thousands of years old and in Egypt, some are protected by the government (such as Ras Mohammed National Park). Unfortunately, whilst Red Sea coral reefs are known for their incredible heat tolerance and resiliency, they are now becoming increasingly threatened as a result of origin seat temperatures and overfishing.Dolphin Reef Beach, Eilat, Israel.Photo by Silviu Georgescu on UnsplashFacts and figuresThe Red Sea’s maximum width is 306kms (190 miles), its greatest depth is 3,040 metres (9,974 feet) and its area is approximately 450,000 square km (174,000 square miles). High surface temperatures combined with high salinities makes the Red Sea one of the hottest and saltiest bodies of seawater in the world. The average water temperature in the summer is 26 °C (79 °F) and 15 °C (66 °F) in the winter. Around 40% of the Red Sea is very shallow - less than 100 metres (350 ft). And 25% of it is less than 50 metres (164 ft) deep! Another fun fact: the Red Sea is approximately 35% saltier than most other seas, which gives it unique health benefits (the saline concentration is thought to improve blood circulation). The Red Sea TourismTourism is a thriving industry in the Red Sea with resorts like Eilat (Israel), Aqaba (Jordan) and Sharm El Sheikh (Egypt) all extremely popular, year-round. Sunshine is abundant, even in the winter, and it is quite possible to swim comfortably in the waters in January and February. It’s also easy to visit Petra from Eilat, as part of an organised tour - crossing the border from Eilat to Aqaba is not difficult and from there it is around two hours to the magnificent Nabatean city.Eilat Underwater Observatory, Israel.Photo by Marcin Czerniawski on UnsplashThings to do in EilatEilat is a very popular destination for tourists, with the Red Sea a big draw for swimmers and snorkelers.Things to do in Eilatinclude boats with glass bottoms (you will see all kinds of colourful tropical fish), rent kayaks, as well as extreme water sports activities - jet skiing, water skiing, banana boats, tubing and parasailing. Not to mention Eilat Coral Beach and Dolphin Reef.For divers, the Red Sea is a true paradise. In Eilat, the Red Sea diving resort, the diving territory is quite small and the sea drops off so close to the shore that in just a few minutes the water can be 20-40 metres deep. Divers can explore the Nature Reserve (where the Moses Rock is located), as well as the Neptune Tables. For those who love wrecks, there is a Satil, which is 45 metres long and lies about 25 metres deep. Surrounded by soft corals, it is very well preserved.Egypt is also a popular Red Sea diving spot, with resorts like Dahab (famous for the Blue Lagoon) and Sharm el Sheik (40 km from the Thistlegorm - a British steamship sunk by German bombers in 1940 and today a popular dive wreck). Tourist in Eilat area, Israel.Photo by Josh Appel on UnsplashCoralWorld - the Red Sea AquariumThis really is a window onto the Red Sea where visitors can actually go underwater and see a reef without even getting wet! The Underwater Observatory was built in 1975 so visitors could learn more about the Red Sea in a new and innovative way. There are no nets around the towers, so all of the marine life you see has come to the reef naturally! Visitors can see sharks, manta rays, stingrays, all kinds of colour and amazing schools of the tropical fish way up close. There is also a brand new Aquadome and the opportunity to see animals being fed. The aquarium is open every day of the year, save for the Jewish Day of Atonement. Dolphin ReefAlong with CoralWorld, this is one of Eilat’s top attractions and an amazing and unique chance to get up close and personal with a group of bottlenose dolphins who choose, of their own free will, to make this Reef their home! Set on the shores of the Red Sea, it is an ecological site unique to Israel - it has floating piers and observation points at which you can observe these magnificent creatures.The more adventurous visitor can also choose to snorkel or dive with the dolphins, and there are workshops that families love. The Reef also has a beautiful botanical garden and pond.Eilat beachfront.Photo by Boris Izmaylov on UnsplashRed Sea Jazz FestivalFirst held in 1987, the Red Sea Jazz Festival is an annual event, usually held in the last week of August. Running for four days, it hosts performances by accomplished jazz musicians, from Israel and also around the globe. There are workshops on offer and nightly jam sessions. Some of the artists who have performed in recent years include the Mingus Dynasty, Mory Kante, the Latin Groove Orchestra, Rick Margitza and Franck Ansalem. The festival draws audiences of up to 70,000 and has proved so popular that in 2010 a Winter festival now runs each year, for 3 days.Eilat can be easily reached both from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, either by Egged public buses or car rental (approx. 4 hours driving time from each city to the Red Sea). For more information, feel free to read the article How to get from Tel Aviv to Eilat. You can also spend a day in Eilat on your way to Petra with one of the numerous tours to Petra and Jordan.
By Sarah Mann

Theatre in Israel

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

Celebrating Silvester in Israel

Time is flying. Even though Corona has been with it for what seems like an eternity, and some countries are already returning to lockdown, Israel, for the moment, is not in the grip of a crisis. Whilst the borders are temporarily closed for tourists at present, the chances look good that they will open again soon.New Year decor. Photo byAnnie SprattonUnsplashHanukkah has now passed for Jews but what’s just around the corner is Christmas, followed by New Year, a time when thousands of Christian pilgrims flock to Israel, to visit Bethlehem (the place where Jesus was born) and Jerusalem (where he was crucified, buried and then resurrected). In the modern Gregorian calendar, the New Year falls on 1st January and is preceded by the famous ‘New Year’s Eve’ festival, which in Israel is called Silvester. So, why Silvester and why do Jews celebrate it in Israel?What does Silvester Mean?The word ‘Silvester’ is derived from the Roman Saint, Pope Silvester (also spelled Sylvester) from, back in the 4th century. In 1582, the Gregorian calendar was reformed and the last day of its year was declared to be December 31st, linking it up with the feast day of Silvester. Today, of course, 31st December is one of the most celebrated public holidays across the globe. Fireworks are a traditional way to end the evening, along with parties, cocktails, and a certain degree of merriment. Silvester is a huge tradition in central Europe (particularly Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy).And of course, over time, that tradition - like the traditions of Halloween and St. Valentine’s Day - has arrived in Israel. So when did Silvester make its first appearance and how do Israelis celebrate this festival today?Happy New Year hanging decor. Photo byKelly SikkemaonUnsplashSilvester in Israel Past.From the Ottomans to the BritishBy any standards (well, thousands of years in fact), the Jewish calendar predates the Gregorian calendar. Furthermore, when Palestine was ruled by the Ottomans, the ‘Rumi’ system (which is solar-based) was operational. Of course, all this changed when the Ottoman Empire fell and the British conquered the territory on 1st March 1917.Under the Mandate, Muslims celebrated their new year in the summer, Jews would celebrate Rosh Hashanah in the Fall and Orthodox Christians marked the New Year using the Julian calendar. However, because there were so many British soldiers (and diplomats and their wives) in the Holy Land by that time, the demand for a party on New Year’s Eve grew.In 1927, the first one was held, in the form of a dinner followed by a ball. At the same time, the Jews who lived there were not celebrating 31st December/1st January (instead celebrating Hanukkah in Israel) and so advertisements for these festivities were promoted more to English and Arabic speakers.Wine glasses and champagne for the New Year party. Photo byAndres SiimononUnsplashSilvester Springs UpBy the 1930s, however, many Jews from Germany and Austria (where Silvester was always popular) had arrived in Palestine. These Jews were, in the main, secular and worldly - they dressed beautifully, spoke eloquently, and enjoyed ‘bourgeois’ traditions such as summer tea dances and winter balls. Thus the tradition of the Hanukkah ball was born!These ‘Hanukkah/Silvester’ celebrations actually did gain some popularity, although there was a certain amount of discussion and disagreement from other Jews, who felt they were not in keeping with the ‘Zionist ethos’ (as well as being named after a Pope who was notoriously anti-semitic). Indeed, in 1934, the powers that be in Tel Aviv argued:“This foreign custom of Silvester parties is absolutely undesirable, contrary to the spirit and traditions of the people of Israel...and requests that all coffee houses and large event hall owners in the city not organize Silvester parties.” (Deputy Mayor Rokach)The Chief Rabbis went even further, declaring that Silvester was a tradition alien to Jews and something that should not be allowed to ‘invade’ the Holy Land. Essentially, they regarded these parties as a dangerous precedent - one that could lead to Jews adopting Christian traditions! However, as time passed, it became clear that many Jews in Palestine (and, after 1948, the State of Israel) wanted to celebrate. Attempts to stop parties (or even ban them) never came to much, and by the 1950s, Silvester parties were very fashionable (and attended by artists, journalists, and even Israeli politicians).New Year Fireworks. Photo bymeagan paddockonUnsplashSilvester in Israel TodaySo, how many Israels celebrate ‘New Year?’ today. Well, that’s a great question and essentially it all depends on which one you’re referring to. The Jewish New Year - also known as Rosh Hashanah - marks the beginning of the ‘holiday cycle’ (as we’ve said before, Israel has many holidays!) and is celebrated widely by families and friends, usually with a festive dinner and sometimes a trip to the synagogue. Rosh Hashanah, like every Jewish holiday, is based on the Jewish (lunar) calendar so its exact date differs every year. However, it usually falls sometime between early September and early October. Occasionally Israelis give gifts, but the biggest traditions are eating apples dipped in honey and round challah bread! And just in case you’re invited to someone’s home for such a celebration, it’s good to know how to say ‘Happy New Year’ in Israel. You say “Shanah tovah u’metukah” which, translated, basically means ‘Have a good and sweet New Year.”Rosh Hashanah treats. Photo byIgal NessonUnsplashDoes Israel Celebrate New Year's Eve?Silvester, of course, is a completely different ball game - it’s not a religious holiday whatsoever. As a result, many Israelis will celebrate the evening, although more traditional Jews (who observe Jewish ritual law) may not do anything special, since historically they have regarded it as a more ‘Christian’ holiday.In Tel Aviv, for instance, (Tel Aviv has a reputation for being secular, liberal, and somewhat hedonistic) you will find endless attractions - restaurants holding special New Year’s Eve menus, dance parties, intimate celebrations in peoples’ homes and, in hipster neighborhoods like Florentin and Jaffa, people partying in the street when the clock strikes midnight.In Jerusalem, however, which is a lot more traditional (even conservative) any celebrations will be more low-key, perhaps in peoples’ homes and you definitely won’t see revelry in the capital’s downtown. And, of course, since January 1st is not a public holiday in Israel, you’ll still be expected to attend work the next day!New Year tree balls. Photo byAnastasiya RomanovaonUnsplashSilvester Events in Tel Aviv this Year (2021)The New Year’s Eve countdown in Tel Aviv can be celebrated at many different venues across the city, including: The Breakfast Club - this popular nightclub on Rothschild Boulevard is throwing a Tiki party, with lots of dancing and tropical cocktails!Cheers Bar - hanker for some old music? Well, this bar is throwing a 1990s themed bash with music from that era, including Madonna, the Spice Girls, and Nirvana! Get your dancing shoes on...Brown TLV Hotel - this trendy hostel is converting its lobby into a disco and with its reputation for upmarket design, style, and cocktails, it’s bound to be fun!Shpagat - this popular gay bar on trendy Nahalat Binyamin is throwing their annual ‘Sylvester Prom Party.’ It’s an intimate and cozy venue and, even better, there’s no entry fee.The Dancing Camel - this fun bar is throwing a Roaring Twenties shindig, where you can dance to swing music and drink fabulous cocktails.The Kitchen Market - this upmarket restaurant, above the food market in Tel Aviv’s Namal Port, has a special New Year’s Eve menu, with both early and later sittings.New Year's Eve sparklers.Photo byIan SchneideronUnsplashNovy GodAs well as Silvester, the holiday of Novy God has also become increasingly popular in Israel. ‘Novy God’ is Russian for “New Year’ and symbolizes both the Russian New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.Historically, Russia adopted European customs in 1700 under Tzar Peter I, when he issued a decree, declaring that all citizens should have a fir tree in their home. By the mid 20th century, after the Tzars had been overthrown by the Bolsheviks, Novy God was declared a public holiday Unsurprisingly, it became very popular, perhaps because it was the only holiday in the Soviet Union not associated with communism. Israel has a large Russian population (many of whom arrived in the country after the fall of the Soviet Union) and so Novy God has gained popularity in the last 30 years. Especially in places where there is a large Russian community (Ashdod, for example), many festivities are held, with plenty of revelries to boot.A typical ‘Novy God’ dinner (which can often resemble a veritable feast) will include traditional Russian appetizers such as cabbage, potatoes, mushrooms, beets, and dill. Salads with mayonnaise (Olivier Salad and dressed herring, e.g.) are popular and caviar is often served, not to mention fermented pickles, which are often paired with vodka shots and champagne!New Year Celebration. Photo byJonathan BorbaonUnsplashWhen the clock strikes midnight, that’s when festivities really kick-off. There’s often lots of dancing and, at a certain point, dessert is served - the Napoleon cake is a big favorite, as well as vareniki (dumplings) filled with cherries. Celebrations go on way into the night and many Russian Jews will tell you that they have fond memories of their childhood Novy Gods, when they were not told to go to bed, often staying up until dawn broke. There will often be a decorated tree with presents underneath, which ‘Ded Moroz’ (‘Grandfather Frost’) hands out to the children.Now that more and more Israelis are beginning to understand that Novy God has little in common with Christmas, they’re also dying to learn more. Outreach initiatives mean that, across the country, many Russian-Israelis are inviting friends and neighbors into their homes, so they can share their wonderful traditions with them. Teaching others that Novy God is less about drinking in a bar and more about getting together with family and friends to share food and stories is just one more way of spending 31st December. So whether you’re religious or secular, Christian, Jewish or Muslim, Happy 2022 to you all - and whether you’re celebrating Silvester, Novy God or just staying home with Netflix, enjoy yourselves!Chrismas and New Year decorated tree.Photo byTessa RampersadonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Jerusalem and the Crusades

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

Mountains in Israel

The geography of the Holy Land is incredibly diverse - you can actually dive with tropical fish in the Red Sea, cycle through the Arava and Negev deserts, swim and sunbathe by the Mediterranean Sea all in the space of a day, if you get up early. Something else that’s amazing about Israel is just how many mountains it has. Many tourists aren’t aware of this - they imagine sun, sea and sand, without knowing that within an hour or two’s drive of both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv it’s possible to find amazing places to climb and hike.Masada Cable Car, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockMountains in Israel are also imbued with religious significance, important to Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. From Mount Sinai, where God gave Jews the Ten Commandments, to the Mount of Temptation(where Jesus battled with Satan), great drama takes place. No less so either in the Quran - in Islamic history, the small hills of Al-Marwah and Al-Safa are the locations between which Muslims travel back and forth during their famous pilgrimage known as the ‘Hajj.’And for those less interested in history and more in sport, Israel’s a great place to visit if you’re athletic. Whether you want to hike,indulge in some rock climbing, take off on a mountain bike action in Israel, ski and snowboard on Mount Hermon, or rappel down the sides of the Mitzpe Ramon crater in the Negev desert, there’s a tour guide waiting to arrange your excursion in Israel.Below we’re looking at some of these mountain ranges, what makes them important to the pilgrims who visit there and why you should think about visiting a few of them on your trip to Israel.Mount Arbel near Tiberias. Photo credit: © Dan PorgesMountains and the Hebrew BibleMount Carmel -This coastal mountain range in Haifa is, at its highest point, 5454 m above sea level. The name dates back to biblical times and comes from the Hebrew word ‘kerem’ (‘vineyard’), referring to the mountain’s fertility. Its most important reference in the Old Testament is in Kings 1, where Elijah confronted the false prophets of Baal.Mount Gerizim - Located in the West Bank, just south of Nablus (Shechem) Mount Gerizim rises to 880 m and is the twin of Mount Ebel, which sits to its north. The mountain is mentioned in Deuteronomy 11, as the site where God was to give his blessing to the Jewish people - and this ceremony was subsequently performed in the time of Joshua. Gerizim is also mentioned in the writings of the Roman historian Flavius Josephus and in the rabbinical Talmud. Mount Gilboa - The Gilboa Ridge runs to around 80 km and rises to a height of 650 meters above sea level. Close to the Great Rift Valley, its slopes are steep and ideal for hiking when in Israel. It is also home to several springs, including Ein Harod and Ein HaShlosha and these are very popular both with tourists and locals.Overlooking the Jordan Valley to the North and the Jezreel Valley to the south, Mount Gilboa is where Saul (Israel’s first King) died (by falling on his own sword) in a battle against the Philistines. When David heard this news, he wept and cursed the mountain.Hai-Bar Carmel National Park. Photo credit: © Manu Grinspan. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityMount Hazor - Located in the West Bank, with Samaria to its north and Judea to its south, Mount Hazor reaches over 1,000 meters at its peak. In Hebrew, ‘Hazor’ means ‘courtyard’ and refers to the wall enclosures that people constructed here in ancient times. In Joshua’s day, it was regarded as the ‘head of all the kingdoms’, and accounts from the Dead Sea Scrolls suggest that this is the place where Abraham built an altar and prepared to obey God’s word and sacrifice his son Isaac.Judaean Mountains - Also known as the Hebron hills, the Judean Mountain range stretches from the foothills of Judea to parts of the Jordan Rift Valley, including important cities such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah. Reaching a height of just over 1,000 meters, they formed the heart of the Kingdom of Judah, where the first Jewish settlements emerged.After the death of David’s son, King Solomon, the ten northern tribes separated from Judah, and Jerusalem remained the capital of the kingdom of Judah, which continued until 587/586 when the Babylonians conquered it. This majestic mountainscape is also where David hurled a stone at Goliath and Bar Kochba led a revolt against the Romans. Today, it is a wonderful place to hike, enjoy a wine tour/picnic and visit numerous archaeological sites.Judaean Desert Mountains. Photo by Amit Lahav on UnsplashMount Betarim -This mountain is sacred to two faiths - according to Jewish tradition, it is the spot at which God made his covenant with Abraham and according to Muslim tradition, it is where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice four species of birds, before bringing them back to life.Сity of David - More than 3,000 years ago, King David left Hebron for a small hilltop city known as Jerusalem; he would later establish it as the capital of the tribes of Israel. Years later, his son Solomon built the First Temple there and, as a result, this hilltop became one of the Holy Land’s most important sites.Mount Sinai (in Arabic, Jabal Musa) lies on the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, rising 2,280 m high, and surrounded by even higher peaks. It is, of course, famous as the spot on which God gave the Israelites (via Moses) the Ten Commandments. Mount Nebo rises 710 m high and is situated in Jordan. It is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the place at which God gave Moses a view of the Promised Land.Breathtaking Sunrise at the top of Mount Sinai in Egypt. Photo by Vlad Kiselov on UnsplashMountains and the Christian BibleMount of Beatitudes - Overlooking the Sea of Galilee, this is the place where Jesus was supposed to have given his famous Sermon on the Mount. The exact site is not known but pilgrims commemorate the event at the Church of the Beatitudes, built on the slope of the mount and close to the Tiberias-Rosh Pina road. Mount Precipice - Located just outside of Nazareth, and almost 400 m high, this mountain offers wonderful views of the surrounding area, as well as beautiful walking paths known by pilgrims as the ‘Gospel Trails’. According to the Gospel of Luke, an angry mob attempted to throw Jesus off this mountain, after his bold sermons in the area.Mount of Temptation -Rising to 360 m above sea level, and offering wonderful panoramic views of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, this is the spot - near Jericho - at which tradition holds Christ was tempted by the Devil. You can reach the summit only on a steep path, passing by a monastery that literally ‘clings’ to the face of the cliff.Mount of Transfiguration - According to the Gospel of Matthew, this is the spot at which Jesus underwent his transfiguration - his face shone like the sun and his clothes turned white. Its actual location is unknown - it could be Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon.Mount Tabor - Located in Galilee, at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley, although it is not mentioned specifically in the New Testament, Mount Tabor is assumed to be the location of Jesus’s transfiguration (see above).Mount of Beatitudes Church, Sea of Galilee, Israel. Photo credit: © ShutterstockMountains of Jerusalem‎Mount of Olives - The Mount of Olives (in Hebrew’ Har HaZeitim’ and in Arabic ‘Jabal Al Tur’) sits east of and next to Jerusalem and is named after the olive terraces that cover the slopes. Referred to frequently both in the Old and New Testaments, it is a sacred spot for Christians, Jews, and also Muslims, and also home to a prominent cemetery.First mentioned in the Bible as the “ascent of the Mount of Olives”, it is also mentioned in the Book of Zechariah at the end of days prophecy. For Christians, it is the spot where Jesus spent time in the last week of his life, particularly at the Garden of Gethsemane (where he prayed before his arrest) and also as the spot from which he ascended to heaven. For Muslims, the Mount of Olives is where the Kaaba - the black stone from Mecca - will one day return. Temple Mount (Moriah) - Also known as Haram al-Sharif and Al Aqsa, this hill in Jerusalem is venerated both by Jews and Muslims. For Jews, it is the place where the divine presence manifests itself and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. For Muslims, it is the site of Mohammed’s ascent to heaven, in 7 CE. Located just above the Western Wall, in recent years its sovereignty has become hotly contested.Mout of Olives with the Church of Dominus Flevit, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockMount Zion - Situated just outside the Old City Walls, Mount Zion is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (in conjunction with the City of David and also Temple Mount) but today its name refers to the Western Hill of ancient Jerusalem. The word ‘Zion’ certainly has emotional connotations for Jews...it is where God dwells, is King, and has installed his King. Mount Scopus - At 825 meters high and situated in north-east Jerusalem, Mount Scopus has historically been a strategic point (‘scopus’ in Latin means ‘lookout’) and used by the Romans and Crusaders, as well as the scene for modern-day battles. Between 1948-1967, Mount Scopus was protected by the UN as an Israeli enclave within Jordanian territory. Today it offers panoramic views of the city and is home to the world-famous Hebrew University.Mount Herzl - Named after Theodor Herzl (the founder of modern Zionism) and also known as Har haZikharon (the Mount of Remembrance) this hill is home to Israel’s national cemetery and also other education and memorial facilities. It is a site of great importance in Israel, being where the state ceremony for the conclusion of Memorial Day and the beginning of Independence Day takes place each year. To its west, sits the Yad Vashem Memorial to the six million murdered in the Holocaust.Dormition Abbey, Mount Zion. Photo credit: © Sofia EmeliyanovaFamous Mountains in Northern IsraelMount Hermon - Mount Hermon (or Jabul al-Sheikh, "Mountain of the Sheikh" in Arabic) is a cluster of hills in the Lebanon area, with peaks that sit between the border of Syria and Lebanon. The United Nations is in control of the buffer zone at the top, separating Israel and Syria and its southern slopes are home to a ski resort that is popular with Israelis, though Mount Hermon's weather is characteristic of fog.Mount Heman soars to 2814 above the sea and is the highest mountain in Israel, surrounded at its base by a number of small Druze villages. Historically, Mount Hermon has been known as a holy place, a snow-capped hill, and also a mountain of great military (strategic) importance. Its springs at the base of the mountain form into streams that eventually make up the Jordan River.Mount Bental - Located in the Golan Heights, Mount Bental rises 1,170 meters above sea level and provides amazing views of Mount Hermon and the Golan. The overlook is managed by Kibbutz Merom haGolan, the first of its kind established after the Six-Day War in 1967.In 1973, in the Yom Kippur war, this mountain was home to an enormous tank battle and as a result of the huge casualties (100 Israeli tanks were reduced to 7, under extreme enemy fire) was subsequently known as the ‘Valley of Tears.’Valley of Tears, Golan Heights.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinMount Arbel - Situated near Tiberias, in the Lower Galilee, this mountain boasts beautiful hiking trails that lead to a fortress-like building, the remains of an ancient synagogue, and stunning views of the Golan Heights. The caves dug into Mount Arbel’s cliffs were historically used as a hiding place for Jews fighting their enemies - the historian Josephus writes of the last Hasmonean rebels who lived in the cliffs and were eventually defeated by the Romans. Mount Meron - Located close to Safed in the Upper Galilee, Mount Meron has great significance for Jews, being particularly famous for the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and a huge annual celebration of the festival of Lag B’Omer. It is mentioned in the bible as the spot at which Joshua defeated the Canaanite kings and some Jews also believe a cave nearby holds the remains of the famous rabbis Hillel and Shammai.The Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

The Mediterranean Sea

Israel’s a popular tourist destination for many reasons - ancient historical landmarks, wonderful archaeological sites, mountains, deserts and bountiful orchards. It might be a small country, but Israel packs a big punch in terms of what there is to see and do, making it an ideal place to take a break. And for those who love water, one of the biggest draws has got to be its long, sandy coastline with gorgeous beaches, bordered by the beautiful, clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea.A boat in Caesarea Harbor.Photo credit: © ShutterstockToday we’ll be taking a look at what makes the Mediterranean sea so special - its location (and ports that served it historically), its geography and weather patterns, the tremendous biodiversity it offers marine biologists, and its beautiful beaches. We’ll give you a little insight into the astounding maritime archaeology that can be found off the Israeli Mediterranean coast, as well as a few tips and pointers for holidaying at cities up and down its shores.Etymology of Mediterranean SeaThe actual word ‘Mediterranean’ comes from the Latin ‘mediterraneus’. Medius and terra, combined, spell out ‘middle of the land’. However, the Mediterranean has been known by a number of names throughout history - to the ancient Romans it was ‘mare nostrum’ (‘our sea’) and to the Turks ‘Akdeniz’ (‘the white sea’).The Old English name of theMediterranean Sea was Wendel-sæ, named so after the Vandals, living on the southwest coast after the fall of Rome. In Hebrew, it is ‘HaYam HaTikhon’ (‘the middle sea’), in Arabic ‘Al-Baħr Al-Abyad Al-Muttawasit’ (‘the middle white sea’) and in the Bible, it is referred to as ‘the Sea of the Philistines’, ‘the Great Sea’ or simply ‘the Sea.’Aerial view of Caesarea coast, Israel. Photo credit: © ShutterstockGeographyof Mediterranean SeaIn general, the Mediterranean climate is one of mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers, which is why it's ideal for growing crops such as olives, lemons, oranges, and grapes. Because it is almost landlocked (having only the narrowest connection with the Atlantic ocean) its tides are quite limited. Another thing that is noticeable about this sea is its color - because nitrates and ammonia in its waters are in short supply, the result is the crystal clear blue waters that swimmers and divers know and love. Additionally, although most nutrients are found in the bottom layers of the sea, algae thrive at the top (where the sun shines).What many people don’t know is that, long ago, the Mediterranean sea almost dried up - and it was only ‘revived’ by a sensational flood, about 5 million years ago. Some scientists even believe that - for a time - the entire sea evaporated - and was desiccated, just like the Sahara. Today, the only real evidence of this ‘flood’ is a layer of salt up to two miles thick, hidden deep below the sea basin. The Mediterranean Sea in Acre, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockMediterranean WeatherThe weather in Israel’s Mediterranean area, as mentioned before, is characterized by hot, dry summers and cool, rainy winters. Rains begin in late October and are usually gone by early May, with rainfall peaking in January and February. From late spring to October, temperatures can be scorching and high humidity levels can make walking outside quite uncomfortable. The evenings bring a breeze, but it is quite common, in July and August, for the thermometer to register 25 degrees celsius (77F) at midnight and soar to 36C (96.8F) in the day.History of the Mediterranean SeaFrom ancient years (dating back to the Bronze Age) to contemporary times, the Mediterranean Sea has played an important part in Israel’s history - in the form of a number of ancient seaports such as Jaffa, Caesarea, and Acre.Jaffa (from where Jonah supposedly fled God and, for his trouble, was swallowed by a whale) is arguably the oldest seaport in the world - ancient documents show it was in use as long as 4,000 years ago.The Cable Car to Rosh Hanikra Sea Caves on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockCaesarea and Acre (further up the coast) also give visitors an idea of how important the Mediterranean was to Israel. Caesarea (established by King Herod in 20 CE) was the main gateway port for Roman soldiers and even though much of it was destroyed, you can still see incredibly well-preserved ruins there today.The same is true for Acre - during Crusaders' times, it was a leading port for Europeans arriving and departing and several rabbis arrived there, including Maimonides. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and famous for its citadel walls, Arab gates, and Ottoman towers. Today, Israel has two large, active cargo ports - Ashdod and Haifa. Haifa has emotional significance to Israelis too because it was the point of entry for many refugees arriving in Israel, first fleeing Europe after the Holocaust and later seeking refuge from Arab persecution.View of Jaffa port and Tel Aviv beachfront.Photo credit: © ShutterstockBiodiversityThe Mediterranean is a veritable hotspot for biodiversity - it has between 15,000 to 25.000 species, and 60% of these are unique to the region. Even though it covers less than 1% of the world’s ocean area, this tiny semi-closed sea is rich in underwater beds and islands, as well as serving as an important place for wintering, reproduction, and migration of species.Climate Change and Environmental ChallengesClimate change is also causing problems for the Mediterranean - its million cubic miles of water keep vaporizing as the years pass, with insufficient rain to rectify the loss. The only water source keeping the sea stable is flowing through the Strait of Gibraltar (a narrow channel between Spain and Morocco). In the meantime, over 1,900 species of birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles have recently been assessed by scientists and it is estimated that almost 20% of them are threatened with extinction. Certain irreplaceable species are already extinct, including the Hula Painted Frog and the Sardinian pike. Reasons for this include habitat loss (caused by developing coastal infrastructure and dam building) as well as over-fishing, pollution, and invasions by alien species. Increasing urbanization and the arrival of millions of tourists to the area each year are also taking their toll. It’s safe to say that urgent conservation action needs to be taken, as well as caring for endangered species, to ensure the damage does not continue.Tel Aviv Promenade.Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe Mediterranean Sea in IsraelWhy is the Mediterranean sea important to Israel? For millions of Israelis (as well as those visiting the country) the Mediterranean sea is a source of pleasure, leisure, income, and food. Alcoholism, obesity, and heart disease rates are some of the lowest in the world here, even though wine, olive oil, fruit, and bread are widespread. Abundant sunshine means it's easy to get a constant supply of Vitamin D.The sea absorbs around a quarter of all the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere through human activity. Many scientists believe that living near the Mediterranean reduces the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's, not to mention improving longevity and quality of life. Mediterranean sea air is a natural cleanser, has antiseptic properties, and can help improve circulation. It all helps - in 2021, Israel was ranked 12th in the UN’s World Happiness Index and Tel Aviv, in particular, is said to be the world’s 8th most happy city! Surely this has got something to do with living next to the Mediterranean sea and its glorious beaches?Tel Aviv beachfront. Sunset on a rainy day. Photo by Shai Pal on UnsplashIsraeli Cities on the MediterraneanMany important cities in Israel are situated on the Mediterranean coast, including Ashkelon, Ashdod, Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Haifa, Acre, and Nahariya. So if you’re looking to travel in this area, either independently, as a part of a group tour, or by booking a private tour, then you have an astonishing number of beach options. From Surfing and Drumming to Churches and FishermenTel Aviv is a magnet for travelers of course - its foodie scene, small coffee shops, bustling boardwalk, small boutiques, and 24/7 nightlife make it incredibly popular with all age groups. Tel Aviv’s beaches all have their own style and flair - whether you want to beat drums, surf, enjoy some folk dancing or simply lounge on a chair - there’s something for you. Moreover, Jaffa is less than an hour’s walk south along the shore from North Tel Aviv’s Namal Market, and a marvelous place to spend time. Whether you want to rummage in the Jaffa flea market, stroll the narrow, cobbled streets of the Artists' Quarter, or wander down by the harbor, watching fishermen sit patiently at Jaffa Port, hoping for a catch, you’ll have a fine time.Ships at Jaffa Port. Photo credit: © ShutterstockFortresses, Sand Dunes, and BathingSouth of Tel Aviv, Ashdod and Ashkelon have wonderful sandy beaches, complete with sand dunes. Ashdod has an ancient fortress and Ashkelon boasts a National Park, where you can bathe and then explore nature on the same day. North of Tel Aviv, upmarket, ritzy Herzliya Pituach and French-dominated Netanya (where boulangeries serving authentic croissants and quiches) are fantastic for travelers. The sea temperature of the Mediterranean is cool in the winter but between May and October, it is pleasantly comfortable (almost like a warm bath) for swimming. The jellyfish season in Israel is usually between June and August, so watch out! (Luckily, although a sting can be painful, it will not be fatal). And as for the question “Are there sharks in Israel?” the answer is, “Yes, but none that will hurt you!”. In recent years, groups of ‘sandbar sharks’ (an endangered species) have been sighted both in Ashdod and Hadera, although they are still pretty rare. So spending a day at the beach is really not a bad idea!Ashkelon Beach.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinShore Excursions and Day Trips to JerusalemFor those who would like to explore the north of the country, we’d highly recommend booking Caesarea, Acre, Rosh haNikra tour.It’s also possible to take a private Israel Shore excursion from Ashdod of Haifa. If you’re on a cruise that docks in the country, this is the ideal way to spend a few hours and because most of these tours are private, they can be customized according to your exact needs.Many of our customers also ask us “How far from the Mediterranean Sea is Jerusalem?” and the answer is “not far at all!” From Tel Aviv, it's a 45-minute drive (without traffic) and even faster with the new high-speed train which for a few dollars will transport you to Jerusalem’s central train station (connected with the light rail, and just a 15-minute journey thereafter from the Old City Walls). So you can enjoy time at the coast and also visit this unique city - taking a day trip to Jerusalem has never been this easy.Maritime ArchaeologyIsrael is also home to all kinds of maritime archaeology, not to mention shipwrecks that have been found off the Mediterranean coast. Historically, Israel’s coastline lacked deep and natural harbors so boats in ancient times had to look for shelter from the storm in river mouths. Many, unfortunately, did not survive the perilous waters!Since the 1960s, maritime archaeologists have been carrying out underwater excavations all along the coast, trying to find the remains of shipwrecks, cargos, and ancient harbors. For those who are curious, there are a number of national parks that can still be visited, giving a sense of how these coastal towns operated thousands of years ago. Here are a few we’d recommend:Aqueduct Beach, Caesarea, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock- Ashkelon Archaeological park is just 40 minutes drive from Tel Aviv and boasts an ancient fortress and the remains of two churches. - Crusader City in Acre - The maritime capital of the Crusaders, Acre has astonishingly well-preserved ancient walls. Don’t miss the citadel, Templars' Tunnel, Knights Hall, Al-Jazzar mosque, and a stroll along the harbor.- Caesarea National Park - this magnificent Herodian city boats an amphitheater. Roman theatre, Caesarea Port, hippodrome, and bathhouse. There’s also an Underwater Museum (fantastic for diving enthusiasts) and the often-empty Aqueduct Beach.- Apollonia-Arsuf National Park - close to Herzliya, here you can walk along the coastal path and explore this Crusader castle and Roman villa. -The Carmel Caves - these dwellings of prehistoric man provide valuable insight into life back then, with excavations throwing up flint tools, animal bones, and a human burial site. - Tel Dor National Park - this ancient Phoenician port city can be found on the Carmel coast and was once a great city in the Mediterranean.- Atlit Yam - located near Haifa, a number of submerged prehistoric sites have been found here, dating back to 7 BCE. Findings include a mysterious stone circle and dozens of human skeletons, all still in their graves. One of the oldest and largest sunken settlements ever found.Apollonia coastline, Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
By Sarah Mann

Historical Figures in Israel

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

Israel Trips for Seniors

Thinking about making a trip to Israel, if you’re a senior traveller, is always an exciting prospect but it can be a bit daunting. This is especially true if you haven’t visited the Holy Land before - and it’s understandable that you’ll have a fair few questions before you make the decision to book a tour of Israel for seniors.Tourist floating in the Dead Sea. Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe good news is that it’s a fantastic country to visit if you’re a little older than the average visitor - it has wonderful, clement weather for many months of the year, a health care system that’s the envy of the world and well-developed infrastructure, including excellent, reliable and cheap public transport.Even better, English is widely spoken throughout the country (and quite a bit of French and Russian too!) which is very reassuring for those who worry about language barriers. All signs on the road are written in Hebrew, Arabic and English and almost every street vendor, restaurant waitress or taxi driver will be able to chat to you - not to mention younger people (who’ve often travelled abroad after their compulsory military service, and speak English fluently).All this aside, as a travel company that’s been in business since the 1990s, we understand that people can sometimes be a little nervous about travelling to this part of the world - and not just regarding the political situation but also because it’s the ‘Middle East’. Here, we’re going to look at some of the questions older travellers sometimes want answers to before they decide to take the plunge and head in our direction. We’ve also thrown in a few helpful tips and general information that we hope will help in your decision-making. Here we go:Bahai Gardens, Haifa.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWhat Should I Pack For My Trip to Israel?1. Start off with an electric adaptor and voltage converter. Israel runs on 230 volts at 50 hertz, and the US runs on 120v. You can easily pick these up online, in a local hardware store in your own country or, of course, when you arrive in Israel (they are widely available in malls, pharmacies and local convenience stores). If you’re coming from Europe, it might be that you can use the sockets available - note, however, that the power prongs in Israel are rather unique - sometimes they will fit, and sometimes not. Ask your guide or a hotel staff member and, if in doubt, pick up an adaptor for a few shekels. 2. Comfortable shoes - there will be plenty of walking in places like Jerusalem’s Old City, as well as exploring ancient sites like Masada, the Galilee and Caesarea, so bring footwear you can count on. Don’t try breaking in a new pair on holiday either - you’ll end up with blisters. We suggest comfortable trainers/walking shoes or sturdy sandals, as well as some flip flops for the beach/a trip to the Dead Sea.3. Appropriate clothing - in hot months (of which Israel has many) you really need a wide-brimmed hat and cotton or linen shirts, dresses and shorts. In Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, even in the summer, it can be breezy at night so bring a light sweater. You also need to remember that, when visiting holy sites in Israel (churches, mosques, synagogues) you need to dress modestly - women will need to cover their shoulders and should pack a scarf to use as a head covering. A monk in Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin4. Water bottle - you can buy bottled water everywhere but if you want to save your money, then bring a water bottle. There are fountains everywhere, at which you can refill it. The water in Israel is safe to drink from the tap, so don’t worry about becoming ill.5. Suntan lotion and aftersun - again, this is widely available in Israel but more costly than in the US or Europe, so it’s a good idea to buy it beforehand. Temperatures will soar in the summer and it’s easy to burn - be careful and err on the side of caution by bringing the cream of a high factor.6. Prescription medication - Israel’s clinics and hospitals are fantastic, but who wants to waste time visiting a doctor? Bring adequate supplies of your medication as well as a copy of your eye prescription (and a spare pair of glasses, if you use them).7. Copies of travel insurance and documentation - it’s always worth having a paper copy as well as electronic (email) details. although hopefully it won’t be needed. You can always carry a copy of your passport on you too since it’s safer to leave your actual documentation at the hotel.For a few more helpful hints, take a look at our article entitled ”What You Need to Pack for Your Next Trip to Israel”.The person holding a water bottle.Photo by Bluewater Sweden on UnsplashShould I change money before I arrive in Israel?It’s not essential but often worthwhile to have a small amount of shekels on you when you touch down and changing money at Ben Gurion Airport is very costly! Can I pay for purchases in Israel in dollars?Israel’s national currency is the shekel and you’ll be paying for most things with it, but in some places (e.g. Jerusalem’s Old City bazaar and some restaurants and hotels) dollars can be used. The greenback is also welcome if you want to tip!Is it easy to use credit cards in Israel?There are ATMs everywhere in Israel if you want to withdraw cash, and the other good news is that almost everywhere now you can pay with a credit card. You’ll still need a bit of cash though, for local markets and buying ice cream from the guy on the beach! Israel is high-tech so it’s also becoming easier to use apps like ‘Apple Pay.’Israel’s History and CultureIsrael has a rich cultural, religious and historical tradition that stretches back thousands of years. Jerusalem is sacred to 3 major world religions and when you throw the politics of the region into the mix, you have a topic that you can talk about for days.Israel welcomes Christian pilgrims from across the globe, is home to a sizeable Muslim community and is also an epicentre of Jewish culture. Many of which you’ll encounter on a trip to Israel.Folklore, literature, art, music, not to mention the revival of the Hebrew languageand the fact that the country absorbed millions of immigrants from across the world since 1948 all make Israel very special.Jerusalem, the city of 3 religions. Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe Great Melting PotAs a result, Israel’s culture is incredibly diverse - immigrants from Europe, North Africa, the Levant and North America amongst many have all brought their customs and traditions here, which is why the country is such an enormous melting pot. Israel is also a country of enormous contrasts - you only have to look at ultra-orthodox life in Jerusalem compared with the secular and liberal culture that exists in Tel Aviv, just an hour’s drive away.It’s worth reading up a little before you travel - on the biblical history of the country, the archaeological sites in Israel,historical figures and political changes that the state went through - or even just delving into a novel by one of Israel’s modern writers, such as Amos Oz or David Grossman. There’s plenty of films by young directors too, including Eytan Fox’s ‘Walk on Water’ and the riveting TV series ‘Fauda’ which really give you an idea of the complexity of the country.Also, be aware of religious sensibilities - Friday noon is when Muslims attend important prayers, Friday night to Saturday night is a Jewish rest day and on Sunday, Christians will be at church. For women, carrying a light shawl or shirt in your bag is a good idea, for visiting holy sites in Jerusalem.Tower of David Museum, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockHolidays in Israel. Can I travel on Shabbat and religious holidays?Shabbat - the Jewish day of rest - starts on Friday evening and runs for 25 hours - and most stores are closed during this time. Jerusalem comes to a standstill on Shabbat although in Tel Aviv many cafes and restaurants are open. There is no public transport in Israel on Shabbat - you can, however, take taxis.Shabbat is taken seriously in Israel - religious people do not use electricity or work in any fashion and even secular people use it as a time to relax, catch up with friends and family or just spend some quality time with themselves. In a world where we’re so used to 24/7 conveniences, this can be strange at first - but, trust us, you’ll enjoy it after you’ve had a taste of it.Religious Jewish holidays in Israel are also strictly observed - especially Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) when the country grinds to a halt (even Ben Gurion airport is closed). No one drives (the highways are deserted) and it is impossible to buy even a cup of coffee. Pick up a book in advance and enjoy some downtime!Tipping. Should I tip and how much?Tipping is not mandatory in Israel but definitely expected. Of course, it’s up to you but in general, give restaurant staff a 10-15% tip and if you’re travelling as part of a tour package, your guide will be thrilled with you tipping them. On day trips, you can tip according to how satisfied you are with the individual.Ruins of Nimrod Castle, Golan Heights.Photo credit: © ShutterstockPublic Transport. Is it safe to use buses and trains?Buses and trains are cheap, comfortable and efficient and whether you’re travelling independently, or taking a group tour in Israel, don’t be afraid to use them. Pick up a green Rav Kav card (widely available), charge it up with prepaid credit - especially if you have48 hours free in Tel Aviv or a couple of days in Jerusalem, the buses or light rail are a great way to get around.Please note, that you’ll probably see soldiers with guns in the street when you’re travelling. Don’t be afraid - everyone does military service in Israel and some entrances to train stations (and other public places) have guards and soldiers there for your security. Tips for the Road. Any tips or hacks to make my trip go more smoothly?1. Respect the local culture - remember that you are in the Middle East. Excessive drinking is frowned upon, whilst smoking is still widespread! In conservative Jerusalem, modest dress is expected whereas in Tel Aviv, anything goes. Learn a few Hebrew phrases beforehand - they aren’t obligatory but every local (and your guides) will love you for it.2. Group travel - remember that pick-ups from other hotels (on day trips especially) might take 15-30 minutes. Nevertheless, we really recommend taking a tour package in Israel if you’re a senior - it’s more comfortable and convenient and you’ll be going at a reasonable group pace! It’s also safer - since you’ll have a group leader who knows the country well - and this gives you added peace of mind.Rosh Hanikra Cliffs.Photo credit: © Shutterstock3. Bed sizes - there are three common mattress sizes for couples in Israel - double beds are common, and there’s also Queens and Kings, for couples who like a little more space to move around at night!4. What’s good to eat? Try everything you can! Israel’s cuisine is eclectic and tasty. Chicken soup, schnitzel, herring and chopped liver are old European favourites. Shakshuka (poached eggs in a spicy tomato sauce), malawach (a thick Yemenite pancake) and Jachnun (another iconic Yeminite favourite) are great for breakfast. Mujadara and T’beet are Iraqi dishes using lentils and chicken respectively, and some visitors fall in love with Moroccan baked cod!Salads are wonderful too - the local produce is to die for and always very fresh. In every food market, you’ll see olives, bread and spices for sale - be adventurous and try a little of everything. Bourekas (pastry filled with cheese or potato) are good to grab when you’re on the go and if you’ve got a sweet tooth don’t fear - between halva, babka and malabi, you’re going to be delighted.Finally, there’s Israeli street food - falafel (fried chickpea balls) and sabich (egg, potato, salad and aubergine served with a mango sauce) are both served with pita bread and make the perfect snack. And how can we not mention hummus? This tasty dip, made with mashed chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic and tahini will win your heart.5. How do I know when I’m ready to take the plunge? Well, take a look at our website, read up a bit and, for more advice, here’s our article on How to Plan Your Perfect Vacation in Israel. Good luck and see you soon!Shakshuka (Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce).Photo by Delaney Van on Unsplash
By Sarah Mann

Visa for Jordan

Jordan’s one of the less talked about countries in the Middle East but actually, it’s the kind of place that, once people visit, they realise just what they’ve been missing. With its beautiful natural landscapes, stunning desert scenery, ancient religious sites and - of course - the wondrous ancient city of Petra - it really should be on any tourist’s bucket list, particularly if you’re combining it with a vacation in Israel or Egypt (with which it shares borders).A jeep tour in Wadi Rum, Jordan.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWhy Should I Visit Jordan?In terms of traveling in the country, Jordan is relatively stable, politically speaking, quite developed in terms of its infrastructure, and its people - from the capital city of Amman to the Bedouins in the desert - are warm and welcoming. It has fine Levantine cuisine, diverse landscapes, and a climate that’s amenable to travel almost the entire year-round. Moreover, whether you’re a backpacker or looking to splash some cash, there are accommodation options to suit all budgets.Moreover, because Jordan is only 90,000 square kilometers (about 35,000 square miles) you can travel from place to place quickly - whether by private car and driver, public transport, or as part of an organized Jordan tour. Traveling from the capital Amman to the desert in Wadi Rum, the ancient ruins of Jerash, the extraordinary nature around the Dead Sea, the wonders of Petra and the chilled-out atmosphere of Aqaba, on the Red Sea, you can pack in a lot, not just in a week or two but even a long weekend. Below, let’s look at some of the practicalities involved in obtaining a visa for Jordan so that you can begin planning your trip and anticipating what fine things await you...Madaba Mosaic Map of the Holy Land, Madaba, Jordan.Photo credit: © ShutterstockDo I Need a Visa to Visit Jordan?“Do I need a visa to visit Jordan?” is a question we are asked regularly, by people wanting to book trips with us. Well, the answer is - for the most part - yes. The good news is that it’s not a difficult or time-consuming procedure and, for the most part, it’s just a matter of paying your fee and having your passport stamped.Broadly speaking, citizens arriving from most countries in the West do not need a visa in advance - it’s something that can be purchased on the border. The main conditions for entry are a passport that is valid for at least 6 months beyond the time you wish to stay there, and two blank pages within the passport that will be used for stamps. The only citizens who do not have to present a passport are those from Lebanon - in this case, a valid national ID card is all that is required.A sandstone formation carved by the elements in Wadi Rum,Jordan. Photo credit: © ShutterstockReturn Ticket Proof and Police Registration at the Jordan BorderIf you are arriving by air, at Queen Alia International Airport, you may be asked for proof of your return ticket. This is less likely if you are traveling overland but please note that all tourists, however they have arrived, are obliged to register with the Jordanian police after 28 days of being in the country.At present, citizens of certain countries are granted visa-free entry to Jordan for varying periods of time (ranging from one to three months, depending on their nationality). Some of these countries include Egypt, South Africa, Barbados, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Ecuador. Nationals of all member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are also allowed to enter without a visa.The Temple of Artemis in Jerash, Jordan. Photo credit: © ShutterstockJordanian e-Visas and Visas on Arrival in JordanAll other foreign citizens (i.e. those not on the list above) entering Jordan from Israel are required to obtain an approved visa for Jordan. This can be either in the form of an e-visa, which is a simple process that can be carried out online, or by purchasing one in person, after waiting in line at immigration, at one of Israel and Jordan borders (either the Sheikh Hussein orYitzhak Rabin). (Embassy visas for diplomats can be ordered in advance from the government office of Amman) At the time of writing this article, there are no bans currently in place for any citizens wishing to travel to Jordan.How Much is a Visa to Jordan?If you are not arriving by air, you will cross into Jordan probably from one of the three borders that are shared with Israel. The two at which you can simply arrive at the border and buy a visa are in the north (Sheikh Hussein at Beit Shean) or in the south, on the Red Sea, where Eilat meets Aqaba (Rabin/Arava crossing). You can either pay for your visa in cash (Jordanian dinars or US dollars) or with a credit card. The cost of a one-month single-entry visa to Jordan is, at present, 40 Jordanian dinars (approx $50). Double-entry visas, that are valid for 3 months, cost 60 JOD (approx. $84). If you are looking to travel back and forth on a number of occasions, consider investing in a multiple-entry visa which costs 120 JD (approx $170.00 USD).South Gate Of The Ancient Roman City Of Gerasa (Jerash), Jordan.Photo credit: © ShutterstockCareful Where You Cross!It’s always good to know this before you set off but, at the Allenby Bridge crossing (between Jerusalem and Amman), you cannot just arrive and purchase a visa. However, if you have a visa that has been pre-arranged, you will be able to enter. As a rule of thumb, we would recommend crossing overland either in the north or south of Israel to Jordan, because the lines are shorter and there is less bureaucracy. Also, because the Allenby Bridge crossing is used by many Palestinians, who wish to fly abroad via Amman, there are far more security checks. So, if you want shorter waiting times and generally an experience with little hassle, we’d advise against using the Allenby Bridge. Indeed, all of Bein Harim’s Petra and Jordan tours cross through the northern and southern borders.Vista of Promised Land from Mount Nebo, Jordan.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWhat is the Jordan Pass? Will It Save Me Having to Buy a Visa and Is It Worth the Money?The Jordan Pass is a venture set up by the Jordanian government to encourage tourism within their country and essentially, offers the entrance to a range of tourist attractions, including Petra, Jerash, and Wadi Rum. Even better, if you spend more than three nights in the country, then your visa fee will be waived. This is an ideal variant for those who travel independently and does not join any guided tours.So you could say it’s a good investment - not only will it help save you money seeing some amazing sites, but it also means you skip the issue of having to obtain a visa. You won’t have to submit online applications, fill out paperwork or even wait in line at immigration. You’ll just walk right through.Ruins of Roman Theater in Jerash, Jordan.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWhat’s Included in the Jordan Pass?For your money, you’ll benefit from digital brochures which you can download to your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, waiving of the visa, provided (as mentioned before) you spend at least 3 nights in the country. Entrance to Jordan’s top locations, including Petra, Wadi Rum, Jerash, the Amman Citadel, Karak and Shobak Castles, Qasr Al-Azraq, the Madaba Archaeological Museum, St. Elijah’s Hill, and Al-Hamimah, to name but a few.The Jordan Pass is valid for a whole year and you can buy it in advance of your trip. It will expire automatically, two weeks after the first attraction you visit. It has been designed with the curious tourist in mind and - since Petra is the highlight of any tourist’s trip - the cost of it depends on how many days you wish to spend there.The Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum, Jordan.Photo credit: © ShutterstockAs mentioned above, all passes include free downloads of digital brochures, the waiving of the visa fee (if you spend more than 3 nights in the country), and entrance to over 40 attractions, Depending on how long you wish to spend in Petra, you can choose from:Jordan Wanderer - this costs 70 JOD (approx. $99) and offers you a full day in Petra.Jordan Explorer - this costs 75 JOD (approx $106) and you can spend 2 days in Petra (a good choice for those who want to see the main sites and perhaps also visit the Monastery).Jordan Expert - at 80 JOD (approx $113), this allows you a full three days in Petra (ideal for those who want to hike and explore off-the-beaten-track parts of the area).If you choose to join one of numerous Petra & Jordan tours, orIsrael and Jordan Tour packagesplease keep in mind that: tours usually do not include visa-issuing (125 USD) and border fees (65 USD for travelers with valid visa stamps);Travelers of certain nationalities require advance issue of visas. For more information please contact us,or check if you're eligible for a visa upon arrival here;Border crossing includes border control and customs, this process may take up to an hour.Treasury (Al Khazne) in Petra, Jordan.Photo credit: © ShutterstockCOVID-19 UpdateBecause of the present situation, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, whilst it is still possible to travel within Jordan, it is not as easy. Some land borders are working on restricted hours and, as a result, Bein Harim is not currently able to offer day trips to Petra. We are constantly monitoring the situation and hope that, in a short period of time, it will be possible for us to once again offer all of our Jordan tours to the public. For further information about the situation, please do not hesitate to call us on (972) 3 542-2000 or email us at info@beinharimtours.com
By Sarah Mann

Herzliya

Herzliya is a city in the centre of Israel, just north of Tel Aviv, and is easily reached from there by car, train or bus. Home to around 100,000 people, it is prosperous - owing to its thriving start-up culture - and also close to a number of beaches. It covers around 21 square kilometres and its western suburbs are home to very wealthy neighbourhoods, where the tree-lined roads are filled with ‘villas’ (spacious homes that are a rarity in Israel).Yachts in Herzliya Marina.Photo credit: © Evgeny BrizeliHerzliya and its most wealthy suburb - Herzliya Pituach - is a city in which many diplomats live (it is home to a number of prominent embassies) as well as successful Israeli and international entrepreneurs. It is affluent and pleasant and according to the Israeli Bureau of Statistics, one of the wealthiest cities in Israel. With its pristine beaches, endless amenities and close proximity to Tel Aviv (with no traffic, Tel Aviv can be reached in 20 minutes by car and 15 minutes by train) it is considered to be a desirable location, both for living and holidaying.Herzliya was founded in 1924, initially as a kind of farming co-operative ‘moshav’ in Hebrew), and named after Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. By 1948, when the state of Israel was founded, its population had reached around 5,000 and in 1960, when it reached 25,000 it was declared to be a city. Today, it is home to football and rugby teams, all kinds of amenities - including excellent restaurants, shopping malls and beaches - and each year hosts the ‘Herzliya Conference’, which brings together business leaders, academics and politicians from across Israel and the globe.The Mediterranean seashore north of Herzliya, Apollonia National Park.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinTop Herzliya AttractionsHerzliya Marina - Israel’s largest and most prestigious marina, here you’ll see hundreds of vessels moored and - in warm weather - hundreds more out on the Mediterranean. The Marina is a great place to stroll, stop for ice cream or a light bite, do a little shopping or grab dinner as the sun goes down. There are sports bars, live music venues and great views of the water.Apollonia National Park - Apollonia, also known as Tel Arsuf, is a hidden gem in the area. A national park, looking out over the Mediterranean Sea, it dates back to Crusader times. Visitors can explore the fortress inside, along with a moat, furnace and Roman villa, and walk along a coastal trail. Look out for gazelles, porcupines, red foxes and star lizards and enjoy the lavender bushes and eucalyptus trees.Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art - Opened in 1975, this building was constructed partly as a memorial building and partly as a museum/cultural centre. Its focus is on contemporary art produced by young artists, both from Israel and abroad, and it also has a sculpture garden.Apollonia National Park.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinKfar Shmaryahu Caves - Samaritans lived in Apollonia/Arsuf as far back as the 5th century and here, in these caves, they buried their dead. A number of these graves can still be seen today (although there are no skeletons!) and are still preserved in a rather good condition, thanks to the limestone. A fun hour or two can be had with kids here - there’s also free admission and plenty of parking.Museum Beit Rishonim - meaning ‘Founder’s House’ in Hebrew, this museum documents the history of Herzliya, from the time it was settled in 1924, onto when it was declared a city in 1960. An interesting exhibition about the ideology of Zionism and Herzl’s vision of what a Jewish state might look like.Sidna Ali - the Sidna Ali mosque is located in the old village of Al-Haram, in the northern part of the city. Inside are vaulted arcades dating back to the 13th-15th century and the tomb of a local saint, Ali Alim. The mosque is popular as a pilgrimage site with Israeli Arabs from Galilee. A playground in Herzliya. Photo credit: © Natalia BrizeliWhere to Stay? Best Herzliya HotelsPopular with tourists year-round, there’s a variety of accommodation in the city and along with no-frills apartments there are also a number of high-end hotels in Herzliya, should you be willing to splash the cash. Here are a few we’d recommend, for a pampering stay:Ritz Carlton - this luxury hotel has beautiful spacious rooms and elegant bathrooms and is only a 3-4 minute walk from the beach. The waiters at the poolside area serve free bottled water and the weekend breakfast runs to 12 midday. Great lobby bar, as well as a spa and their signature restaurant, the ‘Herbert Samuel’.Dan Accadia - close to the beach, with a large pool, the Dan is elegant yet not ostentatious. Vegan visitors rave about their food, especially the breakfasts. The Dan lounge, for members, offers light snacks and drinks. There’s also a lovely beach patio to eat out on, in the later afternoon.Publica Isrotel - the rooms are of small size, but thoughtfully designed and elegant. The infinity pool is beautiful, and the hotel offers colourful and functional workspaces for those arriving with laptops! Visitors rave about the comfortable beds and gym facilities.Herods - Comfortable rooms, excellent buffet breakfast and helpful staff make this hotel on the beach a tried and tested favourite. They offer a free shuttle to the mall and visitors report they are very child-friendly.Dan Accadia Hotel, Herzliya.Photo credit: ©Dan Accadia HerzliyaOkeanos - overlooking the beach, this ‘aparthotel’ is ideal for the business traveller or anyone who likes to keep to their own schedule. All spaces have fully-equipped kitchens and separate spaces for working, sleeping and living, as well as all the amenities of a modern hotel. Visitors rave about the pool and Okeanos also offers a 24/7 fitness centre. NYX - Attractively designed, with an excellent kosher dairy-fish restaurant and cocktail bar area. As well as a pool and spa, the NYX offers free bikes to its guests. The hotel has a business lounge and their stylish rooms all come with a Nespresso machine. Expensive but worth it!Daniel - this is an old favourite for many visitors to Israel. Close to the beach and the marina, they offer spacious rooms (many with fridges) and an excellent buffet breakfast. Visitors often comment on the friendly staff and the well-maintained sauna and jacuzzi facilities.Sharon - with its large outdoor pool, giving direct access to the beach, free bicycle hire and beautiful views of the Mediterranean, the Sharon comes highly recommended. Many of the bedrooms have been recently renovated and the breakfast buffer services an astonishing array of food. The Ritz-Carlton, Herzliya.Photo credit: ©The Ritz-Carlton, HerzliyaA Day at the Beach - Herzilya’s Finest StretchesThere is a number of spectacular Herzliya beaches, all with powdery white sand and clear water. Whether you’re looking for family-friendly activities, a sporty time or some seclusion, there’s something for everyone - and they’re all public, with quite a lot of free parking close to hand, so you don’t have to break the bank. Hasharon Beach, Herzliya - probably the city’s favourite beach, with lots of facilities, including beach chairs for rent and lots of places to eat nearby. Popular with those learning to surf, the waters can occasionally be rough here so watch out! Acadia Beach, Herzliya - Clean sand, clear waters, good working showers and a lookout make this a great place to spend a day. Pick shells, borrow a book from the public library van or just sun yourself. For those looking for an adrenaline rush, there’s also a surf school.Zvulun Beach, Herzliya - not too noisy and not too crowded, you can take shade here in the mornings from the hotel nearby. In the winter, it's a popular spot for kitesurfing. The grassy areas are also ideal for picnics.Marina and Boats Beach, Herzliya - very close to the marina, and with the shopping area and many restaurants nearby, these two interconnecting beaches are always popular and this is the place to go if you want to sail or jet ski.Apollonia Beach, Herzliya - with its empty stretches of sand and green-coloured water, Apollonia is an incredibly beautiful - and very quiet beach. Access to it is by clambering over rocks Great for a long, philosophical stroll or a romantic sunset walk, gaze up at the ancient ruins and lose yourself for a moment.A girl in Herzliya. Photo by Or Hakim on UnsplashFree Time - Things to Do in Herzliya:Shopping - Herzliya has plenty for the shopper, including the Arena and Seven Stars malls. Branded stores include Tommy Hilfiger, Nine West, Timberland and Nautica. Inside are plenty of eateries as well as activities for kids and some free workshops and shows in the summer. Water sports -Whether you want to sail, surf or take out a kite, you can do it here. Yachts can be chartered here, there’s a surf school that offers classes year-round and there are plenty of attractions for kids, including surfing in Herzliya.Israel Day tours from Herzliya -Israel is a compact country, and you can go on day tours around Israel from Herzliya to the most popular destinations like the Dead Sea, Jerusalem and Galilee. Day tours from Herzliya to various places depart daily and are offered in several languages.Bars and restaurants in Herzliya:Sebastian - with its Mediterranean vibe, and delicious dishes that include arancini, chicken liver terrine and salmon with capers, Sebastian isn’t cheap but it’s definitely popular.Meat Bar - the perfect place for carnivores, specializing in steaks (T-Bone, New York, Porterhouse steaks) and the lamb chops and chicken are popular too.A girl at Herzliya Beach.Photo by Pauline on UnsplashZozobra - serving all kinds of Asian fare, particularly Ramen and curries, you sit at long tables and dishes arrive as soon as they are cooked. Reasonable prices and tasty food.Giraffe - if you like sushi, noodles or gyoza, this reasonably priced Asian fusion restaurant is perfect. Try the Orange Thai curry or the ‘Afghan’ with goose breast.Meat and Wine - this smart kosher restaurant has lots of South African inspired meat dishes, including steak, duck and goose liver. The upscale atmosphere with a good selection of wines and tasty non-dairy desserts.Getting to HerzliyaThe number 90 bus runs directly from Tel Aviv to Herzliya, beginning at the Carmel Market, through Dizengoff Street and the Namir Road and costs 10 NIS (3 USD) one way. Allow 30-45 minutes depending on traffic. Trains also leave regularly from Tel Aviv Savidor, Hashalom and Hahaganah stations and a one-way ticket costs 14 NIS (4,5 USD) and takes approx. 13-18 mins. By car, the journey will take between 20-30 minutes on Route 2 (Namir Road).If you are interested in visiting Herzliya as part of an organised private tour, we offer a number of day tours. Also, feel free to call us on (972) 3 542-2000 for more detailed information.
By Sarah Mann

Baptismal Sites in Israel

Baptism is a Christian ritual practice that is imbued with religious meaning and emotional significance. Essentially, for many Christians, it is about making a public profession of faith in Jesus and a testament to being born again. It is also about the individual’s willingness to identify with Jesus’s life, death, burial, and resurrection and a way of strengthening their belief system. Some see it as real spiritual salvation.Baptism at Yardenit, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockMany non-Christians assume that baptism is a ceremony carried out only on infants, in a church, with a minister/priest, godparents, and close family and friends in attendance. But actually, this is not the case - baptism can be carried out on an individual of any age. This kind of baptism consists of full body immersion in water, after salvation, which also testifies to obedience to God. For many believers, it is not just an act of redemption but also spiritual growth.Baptism Procedures and Opportunities in IsraelAs well as strengthening faith, baptism is a way of joining an individual to his or her wider community - and being baptised is a constant reminder to Christians that they are not alone but part of a wider family - a family of God. Furthermore, the last command that Jesus gave to his disciples was “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).Today, Christians from all over the world who are looking to be baptised, or rebaptised, journey to Israel to do so. Baptism in Israel - in the Jordan River - is a once-in-a-lifetime experience they can enjoy, following in the footsteps of Jesus who, himself, was baptised in the Jordan River by John, in ancient Israel. In this article, we are going to look at the two major baptismal sites in Israel where Christian pilgrims can journey, to undergo this sacred ritual, whether as individuals or within the framework of an organised tour. Whether you choose to be baptised at Yardenit, next to the Sea of Galilee and close to Nazareth, or in Qasr al-Yahud, nearer to Jericho and Jerusalem, let’s take a look at some of the practical information needed to make the day go as easily and happily as possible for you.Baptism at Yardenit Baptismal Site.Photo credit: © Shutterstock1. Yardenit Baptismal Site in the GalileeSituated on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee, close to Tiberias, and directly on the Jordan River, Yardenit is the official site for baptism in Israel and famous for being the site at which Jesus was baptised by John. Each year, it receives over half a million visitors, some of whom actually choose to undergo a baptism ceremony where, literally, they believe their sins will be ‘washed away.’The Jordan River, of course, is a religious site mentioned on many occasions, both in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles - Genesis, Joshua, Kings and all four Gospels. Most Christians who visit here, whether to enjoy the views or to undertake the ritual, regard it as a spiritual highlight of their trip to the Holy Land.The site itself is beautiful - surrounded by Eucalyptus trees and lovely flora and fauna. If you are lucky, you may get a glimpse of egrets and spur-winged plover birds or even an otter swimming in the water. Yardenit has modern and well-maintained facilities, including toilets and dressing rooms, which lead directly to the stairwell running down to the river. Visitors can also enjoy meals at the restaurant and buy keepsakes from their visit at the well-stocked gift shop, including bottles of holy water, olive wood crucifixes and mineral mud products.The Wall of New Life, Yardenit Baptismal Site. Photo credit: © ShutterstockIf you wish to organise your baptism within the framework of the Nazareth and Galilee tour we will be delighted to help, although please note that our company does not participate directly. If you wish to be baptised using a priest, then please contact Yardenit directly (see below) to make the necessary preparations.Once you have been given a date by Yardenit, they will send you the priest's contact details and you can call him directly. Please notify your guide of the arrangements you have made with the Priest. Please note that there is a fee for buying or renting the white baptismal clothes. As a rule of thumb, you will need 60-90 minutes for the entire procedure, and this means you will have no problem catching up with your tour group.Yardenit Practical InformationYardenit is open seven days a week, except for the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). From Saturday to Thursday the site is open from 08.00 - 18.00. On Fridays and on the eve of Jewish holidays, the site is open from 08.00 - 13.00. Baptisms can take place only up to an hour before closing time. General enquiries can be made by emailing info@yardenit.com or telephoning (972) 4 675-9111 (Yardenit is two hours ahead of GMT and 7 hours ahead of East Coast Time in the USA).Directions:Driving from Nazareth (approx. 42 km or 26 miles) will take about one hour. Many visitors enjoy stopping in Kfar Cana, which is directly en route, and the place at which Jesus performed his miracle of turning water into wine.Driving from Jerusalem (approx. 188 km or 116 miles) will take about 2 hours, using the Yitzhak Rabin Highway (Route 6). There is a large parking lot outside the site, in which you can leave your car, free of charge, for as long as you desire.Yardenit, the Jordan River Baptism Site, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock2. Qasr al-Yahud close to JerichoQasr al-Yahud is located about 20 minutes drive (10 km or 6 miles) from Jericho and about 45 minutes drive (49 km or 30 miles) from Jerusalem. It lies within the West Bank area and the area is home to a significant number of now-abandoned churches, monasteries and chapels. The River Jordan here is much smaller than many visitors imagine - at some point it is more like a stream.Historically, pilgrims would travel here from Jerusalem by camels, which were hardy enough to withstand the desert conditions. The journey would take days, of course. When they arrived, they would set up camp, close by, sometimes staying for days or weeks. The site is also important in Jewish theology, insofar as it is considered to be the place where the children of Israel ended their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness and crossed back into the ‘Promised Land’.In Hebrew, Qasr al-Yahud means ‘Tower of the Jews’. In Arabic, ‘Qasr’ means ‘break’ which might signify the place where the Jews ‘broke’(crossed) the water of the land they were entering. According to tradition, this is also the place where approx. 200 years later, the Prophet Elijah crossed the Jordan (but in the opposite direction) and was then taken up into heaven by ‘fiery chariots’. For many, after the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, this is the third most holy site for Christians in the Holy Land.Qasr al-Yahud Baptismal Site.Photo credit: © ShutterstockRecent History ofQasr al-YahudAs a result of conflict between Israel and its neighbours - and a number of landmines in the area - the site was closed for many years. After the Six-Day War, in 1967, when Israel captured the territory, Qasr al-Yahud was put under the control of a National Parks group. The site is far less equipped than its ‘rival’ in Galilee although it does have some facilities.There is no fee for entrance and also dressing rooms and toilets. However, there are no officials there and nor are there refreshment facilities. There are some benches where you can eat the food you have brought and a little shade. Sometimes, you will see priests and pastors giving lectures to their groups here. We would advise you to bring your own water (bottled) since, for much of the year, it can be very hot and if you do not consume sufficient fluids, you run the risk of heatstroke. The water is a little muddier (and even murky) at this site, but it is possible to wade here. Just a few metres away is the Jordanian side, and the ‘border’ between the two countries is marked with nothing more than yellow ‘floater’ ribbons. For those who are looking for a less commercial (and perhaps more unspoilt) experience of baptism, it offers an ideal opportunity to contemplate the Jordan river or, indeed, immerse oneself.Church at Qasr al-Yahud Baptismal Site. Photo credit: © ShutterstockOrganising a Baptism at Qasr al-YahudJust as with Yardenist (see above) we will be more than happy to help you organize your baptism at this site with the framework of our Jericho, Dead Sea and the Jordan River Tour. Again, as with Yardenit, Bein Harim does not participate directly in the baptism ceremony and if you wish to be baptised with a priest to hand, you will need to contact the office at Qasr el Yahud directly. There is no priest on site here.If you do wish to be baptised as part of an organised day trip, arrangements can be made to ensure the experience is incorporated into your visit to the area - you should allow between 60-90 minutes in entirety. This baptismal site is also relatively close to Jerusalem, which means it is possible to rent a car privately and drive to the area independently. From here, you can explore the wider area - either sites of religious interest or perhaps make a trip to Masada and Ein Gedi, which are not too far away. Public transport in this area is extremely limited and we would not recommend using it, especially if you have a fixed appointment with a priest.Practical Information onQasr al-YahudOpening Hours: Sunday–Thursday and Saturday: 08.00 - 16.00. Friday and Jewish holidays: 08.00 - 15.00. Tel: (972) 2 650-4844. In winter hours, between November and March, the site closes one hour earlier. Please note that there is no official office at Qasr al-Yahud, and from what we understand it is easier to coordinate a baptism online. If you are staying in Jerusalem, it may also be possible to talk directly with ministers and priests there.Please note that Catholics regard “Bethany Beyond Jordan” as the baptism site of Jesus. It is located in Jordan, not in Israel and has been identified recently as the place where Christ was baptised by John.COVID-19 UpdateBecause of the ongoing situation with the pandemic, please phone ahead to both sites to check on opening hours. For more Christian day tours and Christian tour packages in Israel please feel free to check this pageBaptismal ceremony at Qasr al-Yahud baptism site in the Jordan River.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient Hebrew/Jewish manuscripts, discovered in the Judean desert, inside the Qumran Caves, in 1947. Historians are confident they date back to the last three centuries BCE and the first century. Written also in Aramaic (a Semitic language that was commonly spoken in this period and often used in the writing of holy scriptures) their contents include the second-oldest known surviving manuscripts that were later put into the Hebrew Bible. The majority of the scrolls were written on parchment, with some on papyrus and one on copper.The Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockHistory of the Dead Sea ScrollsThe Dead Sea Scrolls are, of course, of enormous significance - historically, theologically, and archaeologically - since they give us enormous insight into the daily religious practices at the time of the Second Temple. Because of the poor condition of some, less than half of them have actually had their texts identified to date.Of those that have been studied, scholars agree that about 40% relate to the Hebrew scriptures, roughly 200 books from the Hebrew Bible. Another 30% are related to the Hebrew Bible but not canonized. These include commentary on the Bible and apocalyptic proclamations. Finally, the remaining 30% relate to apocryphal manuscripts, containing books not included in the Jewish canon - either previously undiscovered or known only through translations. So how were the Dead Sea Scrolls actually found? In fact, it is an astonishing story.Qumran and the Discovery of the ScrollsThe story of the discovery dates back to 1947 when a shepherd boy and his cousin were out tending their flock. On realizing that one of them was missing, they wandered into the nearby Qumran Caves (close to the Dead Sea) to search for the animal. There, they stumbled upon seven scrolls, all of which were buried in earthenware jars. Burying worn-out Hebrew manuscripts was a common Jewish practice at that time, since - in Judaism - it has always been forbidden to discard them casually. Not knowing the importance of this discovery, they took the scrolls back to their Bedouin camp. There they remained for some time, whilst their family began looking for a dealer to whom they could sell them. How they later came to be recognized for the extraordinary items they actually were is, again, a fascinating story.The Dead Sea Shore.Photo credit: © ShutterstockDetective Story Behind the Discovery of the Dead Sea ScrollsEventually, not knowing their true value, the Bedouins sold all seven scrolls to two antique dealers - three to a man named Salahi and four to a man called Kando (who then resold his to Archbishop Samuel, head of the Syrian Orthodox Monastery of St. Mark, in Jerusalem). Professor Chaim Sukenik, an archaeologist working in conjunction with the Hebrew University, tracked down Salahi and, after seeing the scrolls and, in his own words, trembling with excitement, acquired them.In the meantime, because of the 1948 War of Independence, Archbishop Samuel smuggled his four scrolls out of Israel (to keep them safe) and shipped them to New York. In 1954, having decided to sell them, he placed an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal. This very advertisement was seen by Yigael Yadin, the son of Professor Sukenik, back in Israel. After having raised $250,000, he purchased them, through a middleman, on behalf of the State of Israel, and - once they were back in Jerusalem - reunited them with the other three. A true detective story!What Can We Learn from the Dead Sea Scrolls?The scrolls give us enormous insight both into history and biblical texts. Many of the words in the fragments found are quite different from the words of the same passages in the Greek Old Testament. This shows that the ‘sacred words’ of the Bible have changed over time, even after the Romans conquered the region.Obviously, there is an enormous debate between academics as to their origins and how they came to be placed in this cave. Many scholars believe they were put there by the Essenes. The Essenes were a sect in ancient times who were regarded as being extremely pious and who - it is believed - had deliberately left Jerusalem for the wilderness of the Judean desert. The Judean Desert.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWho Were the Essenes?The Essenes, essentially, were priests, many of whom practiced a monastic existence. They regarded Jerusalem as a city of corruption and, in comparison, regarded themselves as the ‘sons of light’. In the desert, they worked communally, eschewing private property. They were alone (they had left their families behind) though still kept Jewish law, although they ate no meat and carried out no sacrifices. They worked hard in their fields and not for profit, rather for basic survival. Their lives were disciplined, admission to their group was not easy, and, once a member, an Essene divulged nothing to the outside world. One of the professions in which they excelled was scribe, which is perhaps why the scrolls at Qumran were so well looked after. As well as having been placed in earthenware jars (which were water-resistant and practically airtight) most had been written on the hide (skin) of animals, which is known to be a long-lasting material. The cool, dark atmosphere of the caves acted as a deterrent against humidity.Not all academics, however, believe it was the Essenes who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some believe the scrolls were abandoned by refugees fleeing the Romans, after the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Others believe that it could also be possible that they were placed there by a number of individuals, over a longer period of time. After all, these caves were used for shelter by all kinds of people, for hundreds of years.The truth is, we will never be entirely sure who wrote them. Without a doubt, however, the Dead Sea Scrolls have provided scholars with a unique window into a time in Jewish history that was extraordinarily complex.The Qumran Caves, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWhere are the Dead Sea Scrolls Today?The Scrolls today are held in a building erected especially for them, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Named “The Shrine of the Book” it is by far and away one of the most popular attractions there and visited by tens of thousands of visitors each year. This Shrine holds all seven scrolls - Isaiah A, Isaiah B, the Thanksgiving Scroll, the Habakkuk Commentary, the Community Rule, the War Rule, and the Genesis Apocryphon. Save for the last (written in Aramaic), all are written in Hebrew. The Isaiah and Copper ScrollsThe most impressive of the Dead Sea Scrolls is, perhaps, the Isaiah Scroll - the only one from Qumran that is completely preserved. At almost 735 centimeters long, it is the oldest of its kind - academics estimate that it was written around 100 BCE. This stands in the center of the hall, beneath the Dome itself.The Copper Scroll also has a fascinating backstory - it is, in many respects, a ‘treasure map’ because it lists 54 different underground places where caches of silver and gold were hidden. Unfortunately, none of these hoards have ever been recovered (historians believe they may have been pillaged by the Romans (or, if you are more cynical, never existed at all). Since it was not made of parchment, the Hebrew and Greek letters of this scroll were actually chiseled onto it.The galleries of the building are also worth exploring - the upper section tells the story of the people who lived at Qumran and the lower gallery center of the 10th-century Aleppo Codex, which is the oldest-known complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible.Israel Museum, home to the Dead Sea Scrolls.Photo credit: © ShutterstockDesign of the Shrine of the BookThe Shrine of the Book was designed by two architects - Frederick Kiesler and Armand Baros. Built in 1965, with funds detonated by the David Gottesman family (a Hungarian philanthropist) its magnificent design is structured to represent one of the earthenware jars in which the scrolls were found.The building itself is contemporary, and striking because of its use of black and white. Some have referred to it as an abstract modernist’s dream. The white dome of the building is shaped like the lid of the jar, with a black basalt war standing nearby. This contrast is deliberate and mimics the theme of the struggle between the forces of light and dark (i.e. good and evil) mentioned in the texts.A Modernist Design for a Building Symbolising SpiritualityTwo-thirds of the building is actually housed underground - the entrance is beneath the basalt wall - and walks through a passage that has been designed to imitate the actual caves in which the scrolls were discovered. Inside are many glass cases that contain pages of scrolls. However, it is the central display, which resembles a giant spindle, along with a handle, that really catches the eye. More pages of the scrolls are displayed here, and spun around (rotated) regularly so that no one section is ever at risk of deterioration from being ‘over-displayed.’ The building took seven years to complete and its location, is a reflection of the national importance that is placed on these ancient texts and the extraordinary building which is now housing and preserving them. Today, the building is regarded as an icon of modernist design. The symbolism of the building has also been taken, by many, to show the Shrine of the Book as a kind of sanctuary, in which deep spiritual meaning can be found. Not accidentally, a corridor links it with the Second Temple of Jerusalem model, emphasizing that these two buildings, together, are an invaluable source of learning for anyone seeking to understand that period in history.View of the Dead Sea from Masada fortress.Photo credit: © ShutterstockVisiting Qumran and the Israel MuseumQumran, which is set in the Judean Desert, not far from the Dead Sea can be seen from afar during any day trip to the Dead Sea and Masada. Alternatively, individuals with a particular interest in history and archaeology can choose to travel to the archaeological park alone, or take a trained guide, as part of a private tour of the Dead Sea area. Approximately 20 miles from Jerusalem, it takes around 50 minutes to reach there by car.The Israel Museum is one of the country’s most prominent museums and world-renown, not just for the Dead Sea Scrolls but also for its fine art collection, Model of the Second Temple, sculpture garden, reconstructions of synagogues that once existed in Venice, Curaçao, and Cochin and engaging exhibits (both permanent and temporary) relating to Jewish culture, art and life.The Israel Museum is situated 2 km from the Central Bus Station and is close to the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament). It can be visited alone, as part of a guided tour, with aJerusalem Private Tour, or with a Jerusalem New City Jewish Private Tour. Parking is available and buses numbers 14 and 15 run there from the city center.The Israeli Museum is open seven days a week and offers discounts for students, senior citizens, and the disabled. A number of guided tours take place each day, in different languages, most of which are free. Audio guides are available and can also be downloaded onto your smartphone. Tickets can be booked online at a price of 59 NIS/18 USD (regular) ad 39 NIS/12 USD (discount).The museum also boasts an excellent shop, which sells beautiful jewelry, sculptures, small statues (including the replica of the famous ‘Ahava’ statue there), art books, and Judaica (menorot, hannukiot, and wine cups) made by established Israeli and international artists. Visitors can also purchase refreshments and meals in its two eateries, both being kosher, with one serving dairy products and the other a meat menu.The Judean Desert vegetation.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann