Guide to Israel
It seems members of our Beth David family are always traveling to Israel. We believe it would be a terrific resource for our traveling congregants to provide a list of places to go, things to see and do, hotels, restaurants, stores, etc, to enjoy, when you are in Israel.
So, if you have recently been to Israel and would like to add a recommendation for future travelers, please feel free to share your thoughts.
If something on our list disappointed you, that would be good to know.
If you are headed to Israel any time soon, please feel free to use this guide as a more personal supplement to the Fodor’s or Frommer’s or other guidebook you will be bringing along on your trip.
And please, share your thoughts and recommendations with our fellow congregants when you return.
Thanks from the Israel Committee.
JERUSALEM – THE OLD CITY
THE KOTEL – WESTERN/WAILING WALL:
This is considered by many to be the most important (and holy) site for all Jews. This is part of the retaining wall that shored up the Temple Mount, and some of its stones are all that remain of the Second Temple destroyed by the Romans. Men and women come here to pray and leave written prayers in the crevices between the stones. But men and women may not do this together.
Men go to the left of the screen dividing the plaza in front of the Wall. They will be expected to cover their heads (paper kippot are provided). They can also expect to be schnorred, solicited for money to support some ultra-Othodox shul or sect in Israel or in the Diaspora. Go through the arch to the left, at the Wall, and you will enter a room full of arks and prayer lecterns and Hasidim. You may be asked to join in prayer, or you may be totally ignored. But you will definitely feel like you are traveling back in time, to a different century, to the world of your great-great-grandfathers.
Women need to go to the right side of the plaza divider. If you are married (or of marriageable age) you should probably cover your head – a scarf or baseball cap will do. Do not go sleeveless or in shorts. If you are lucky, you may come upon a group of women praying together, and you may be fortunate enough to join them. If they are wearing traditional men’s prayer shawls (tallitot), you may even get to watch them being arrested.
Tradition has it that you should never turn your back on the Wall, so don’t be surprised if you see people backing away from the Wall, until they have gone a respectable distance.
If you are lucky enough to be in Jerusalem for Shabbat or one of the Jewish holidays, definitely head to The Kotel to see how the Hasidim celebrate, daven and joyously sing and dance.
AROUND THE KOTEL/WALL:
TEMPLE MOUNT: Limited access for non-Arabs/Muslims, but definitely worthwhile if you can get up there. This is where Solomon’s temple was located and today it holds the al-Aksa Mosque and The Dome of the Rock (NOT TO BE MISSED). Don’t expect a warm welcome and do expect to remove your shoes and leave them, pocketbooks, backpacks, cameras and other items in the cubby-holes provided outside the holy sites. Try to be respectful, as most of the people up there view tourists as intruders.
BURNT HOUSE: Jerusalem’s answer to Pompeii, artifacts preserved by ash.
CARDO: The Roman market thoroughfare
CITY OF DAVID: King David appointed this the capital of Israel (the area is actually outside the Old City walls) more than 3,000 years ago. See many excavations and underground sites. Our kids enjoyed walking through a very dark (bring small flashlights), narrow tunnel, with water up to their shins, but you can avoid this tunnel and still meet up with your group.
DAVIDSON CENTER: Visitors’ Center at the Jerusalem Archaeology Park - located next to Robinson’s Arch. Learn through high tech media and audio-visual presentations about 3000 years of archaeology and history.
HASMONEAN WALL: from the time of Judah Macabbee
HURVA SYNAGOGUE/HURVA SQUARE: A reconstruction of an early 18th century synagogue, destroyed by the Arabs in 1721 and left as a ruin (“hurva,” in Hebrew), until it was rebuilt in 1861 and then destroyed a second time by the Arabs in 1948. The Square is a great place to sit and enjoy a snack from one of the surrounding stores and just observe the religious community that calls this area its home.
KIDRON VALLEY: Outside the Old City walls, towards the Mount of Olives. Check out Absalom’s Tomb and the Tomb of Zachariah.
MOUNT OF OLIVES: Walk through the huge cemetery just outside the Old City Walls, where Orthodox Jews choose to be buried so they will be well-positioned to be resurrected with the coming of the Messiah. A steep and somewhat deserted climb, through aged gravestones, but with great views of the Old City. If you make it all the way to the top, treat yourself to a snack at the hotel. Or take a cab to the hotel and then climb down through the cemetery to The Old City.
In addition to the JEWISH CEMETERY, check out the GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE and the RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH.
ROBINSON’S ARCH: Adjacent to the Western Wall and near the Davidson Center in the Jerusalem Archaeology Park. Some people have bar/bat mitzvah services here in the morning, which are fun to observe and maybe something you want to consider for your own child (must be arranged in advance).
WESTERN WALL/HEZEKIAH’S TUNNELS: A really terrific activity/site, view the archaeological discoveries excavated in vast tunnels along the Western Wall. Entrance is to the left of the Kotel. Advance reservations are needed.
WOHL ARCHEOLOGY MUSEUM
THE OLD CITY – CONTINUED
Start at Jaffa Gate. One of 11 original entry points to the Old City. You will find The DAVID CITADEL MUSEUM directly to the right on the plaza. This museum is a great introduction to Jewish history and Jerusalem and perhaps the first stop you should make in the Old City (be prepared to spend at least an hour or two). You might also want to return here some evening for the SOUND AND LIGHT SHOW, another good introduction to Jerusalem and its history.
Continue down David Street into the heart of the shuk/bazaar/market. Be prepared to shop and handel (bargain), and be prepared for merchants who will not let you leave their stall until you have made a purchase. Set a figure that you are willing to spend and then see how close you can get the salesman to come to it. But don’t insult the vendors and don’t expect to get a real steal, since the process is all about the give-and-take and the ultimate goal is for everyone to feel like they have done well.
Midway down David Street, go off to the left on Christian Quarter Road. This will take you deeper into the shuk and will take you to THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE , a somewhat confusing jumble of chapels marking the site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus (NOT TO BE MISSED), the VIA DOLOROSA (Stations of the Cross) and other important Christian sites.
Or, proceed down David Street to the dead end, hang a right and follow the passageway to THE CARDO and THE JEWISH QUARTER.
Also at the plaza inside the Jaffa Gate, look for the entrance to THE RAMPARTS WALK. This is a somewhat deserted but very interesting bird’s eye view of the Old City, where you can walk on a pathway on top of the walls surrounding the Old City and peer down into its teeming life and gardens and historical sites and junkyards.
JERUSALEM, THE NEW CITY – TWO SITES NOT TO BE MISSED
ISRAEL MUSEUM: Large and impressive collection of art, artifacts, archaeology (including THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS), Judaica, huge model of Jerusalem, and fabulous outdoor ROSE SCULPTURE GARDEN, all set on a hilly site in the New City. Plan to spend anywhere from a couple of hours to an entire day. Cafes and restaurants on site.
YAD VASHEM: Powerful Holocaust Memorial and Museum. Spend several hours going through Moshe Safdie’s relatively new (this updated facility was dedicated in 2003) extremely moving- historical museum, which culminates in a gorgeous and uplifting panorama of the spectacular Judean Hills. Also check out The Children’s Hall, Memorial Hall, library and other collections at this location. (Children must be over 10).
JERUSALEM, THE NEW CITY – OTHER SITES
AMMUNITION HILL: Kids love to climb the tanks. Somewhat remote location, we had trouble hailing a cab to take us back to our hotel. This park near French Hill is located on a battle site from the 1967 Six Day War.
BIBLELANDS MUSEUM: Next door to The Israel Museum and worth a visit, but probably not the same day that you go to The Israel Museum. Especially good for kids.
GERMAN COLONY – EMEK REFAIM: Jerusalem’s answer to Manayunk or South Street. Lots of eateries, craft shops, where secular Jerusalemites and tourists mingle.
HADASSAH, EIN KEREM: The biggest and perhaps best medical facility in the Middle East, where Jews, Arabs and Christians come for the most up-to-date medical care. Be sure to check out the chapel with the CHAGALL WINDOWS. There’s a new mall as well, where you can eat and shop with Israelis who work at or live near Hadassah.
While in the area, you may want to check out the village of EIN KEREM, a 19th century Arab village, home of John the Baptist, which is now becoming an artist colony. Hilly, a little hard to get to and navigate, but gorgeous authentic architecture and views.
HADASSAH, MOUNT SCOPUS: Hadassah Hospital’s original site, until it was cut off from the rest of the city by the Arabs, now home to THE HEBREW UNIVERSITY.
HAR HERZL: Israel’s national cemetery and site of the grave of Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism. Interesting and sad to read the names and ages of the Israelis who died establishing or defending the State of Israel. If you can arrange to go with a local Israeli, he or she will surely have connections and stories to tell you about the individual, fallen soldiers and their families. Israel truly is a small country, and it seems everyone knows everyone else, certainly less than 6 degrees of separation.
ITALIAN SYNAGOGUE: Located at 27 Rehov Hillel in central Jerusalem,
KING DAVID HOTEL: British headquarters during the Mandate, part of it was blown up by the IRGUN before the War of Independence, and still one of the best hotels in town. Check out this piece of history and current events, where you are just as likely to run into Bibi Netanyahu as you are your cousin from Scarsdale. Also, note the Orthodox speed dating going on in the Egyptian themed lobby.
KNESSET: Not too far from The Israel Museum, Israel’s parliament/capitol building. Tours can be arranged in advance.
MAHANE YEHUDA: Fabulous outdoor food market, absolute mob scene on Fridays before Shabbat, when it seems all of Jerusalem is shopping for the best fruits and vegetables and challahs. Lots of small eateries as well. Expect to be jostled and keep track of your wallets and pocketbooks.
MEA SHEARIM: One of many strictly Orthodox communities, perhaps the largest in the city. Be respectful (proper, modest clothing and head coverings, etc) or expect to be hassled. Like taking a trip back in time, to 19th century Jerusalem or the shtetl.
TICHO HOUSE: One of the first Jewish occupied homes outside the protective walls of the Old City, an authentic Arab-type house that was owned and occupied by a famous Israeli opthalmologist and his artist wife, or, home of a famous Israeli artist and her opthalmologist husband, now a small museum and venue for afternoon concerts. A tranquil, shaded space just a couple of blocks off of teeming Jaffa Road.
YMCA: Directly across the street from The King David Hotel. Take the elevator to the top of the tower for a terrific, 360 degree panoramic view of Jerusalem, the Judean Hills and, on a clear day, The Dead Sea to the south.
YEMEN MOSHE: One of the first Jewish communities built outside the protection of the walls of The Old City, now a very upscale neighborhood for wealthy Israelis and Jews from the Diaspora. Wander the cobblestone lanes, check out the authentic and updated architecture and fabulous gardens.
WOLFSON MUSEUM: Great Judaica collection.
JERUSALEM – RESTAURANTS
Arcadia (10 Agrippas Street, New City, near Ben Yehuda). Known as the best expensive restaurant in Jerusalem, with high quality French-Mediterranean food. Minimalist décor in a nice old building, with a pretty outdoor garden to eat in as well. Food is consistently excellent.
Darna (3 Horkanos Street, New City, off of Jaffa Road). Moroccan food, lots of tagines and cous-cous. Interesting décor, lots of tile work. Dramatic tea-pouring ceremony.
King David Terrace (King David Street, New City) You’ll feel like Ari ben Canaan taking Kitty to tea. Drop dead views of the Old City, drop dead prices as well. Good for a slice of cake or a glazl of tea.
Mamilla Hotel Rooftop Restaurant (11 King Solomon Street, New City) Al fresco dining on the roof of the upscale Mamilla Hotel, with wonderful views of the Old City. Excellent food: meat, fish, pastas, salads. Reservations suggested.
American Colony Hotel (23 Nablus Road, in Arab East Jerusalem). Take a cab or drive, but do not walk, to this pretty, traditional Middle Eastern restaurant, especially if you enjoy feeling like a colonial potentate. Food is very good, coupled with traditional Arab hospitality, in a gorgeous building.
Chakra (41 King George Street, New City, near Independence Park). Interesting, modern Israeli food. Younger, more hip Jerusalem crowd. Fabulous chopped liver (to die for?). Indoor and outdoor seating.
Eucalyptus (14 Arts and Crafts Way, New City, between Yemen Moshe and Jaffa Gate). Great for locavores, the owner/chef uses all local ingredients, many of which are mentioned in the Bible, and many of which he finds in the nearby Judean Hills. The owner is friendly and talkative and very enthusiastic about his food, which is really very good.
Philadelphia (9 A-Zahra Street, Arab East Jerusalem). Even more authentic than The American Colony Hotel and more reasonably priced. Charming and gracious Arab hospitality coupled with terrific grilled fish and vegetables. Good for large groups. Again, take a cab or drive, do not walk.
El Gaucho (2 Rivlin Street, New City, near Independence Park). Argentinian grilled meat. Good for American kids who find Middle Eastern food strange. You might not know what country you are in, but you will enjoy the food.
Focaccia Bar (4 Rabbi Akiva Street, New City). Popular family restaurant, reasonably priced. Nice patio/garden for outdoor eating, indoor dining too. Meat, seafood, pasta, big salads, and wonderful baked focaccias, with your choice of toppings (great to share).
Ima (189 Agrippas Street, New City, near Mahane Yehuda). Traditional Middle Eastern/Israeli food: fallafel, hummus, schnitzel, grilled meats and salads. Lots of Israelis.
Papa Andreas (64 Affmos Street, Old City, around the corner from The Church of the Holy Sepulchre). Great place for lunch while you are touring The Old City. Food is traditional Arab. Sit outside on the rooftop terrace (or in the second floor inside restaurant) and enjoy the fabulous views of the Old City and be grateful for a comfortable place to sit down and rest your feet.
Ticho House (Rav Kook Street, New City, off Jaffa Road). Beautiful, shady, tranquil garden restaurant, just a couple blocks away from teeming Jaffa Road. Nice lunch for ladies (and men who are willing to eat soup and salads and quiche with them).
Tmol Shilshon ( off of 5 Yoel Solomon, New City, off of Jaffa Road). Hebrew hipster heaven for literary crowd, the walls are lined with books. Good salads, fish and pasta, no meat. It’s a little hard to find, but well worth the effort, and you’ll feel like part of the intellectual in-crowd.
YMCA (King David Street, New City, across from the King David Hotel). This restaurant seems to change hands frequently, but the food is consistently good. Nice outdoor terrace. Good ice cream sodas and iced coffee.
Sami (80 Agrippas Street, New City, near Mahane Yehuda). Ima’s lesser cousin. Fallafel, hummus, schnitzel, wide variety of messes (Israeli salads). Authentic Israeli experience.
JERUSALEM – HOTELS
David Citadel (on King David Street, down the street from the King David Hotel and across the street from both the Waldorf Astoria and Mamilla Hotels). Wonderful and expensive hotel, with prime location and fabulous views of The Old City. Nice outdoor pool.
King David Hotel (King David Street). The original, the hotel all the newer ones want to be. See Sites (above) for description. Maybe not as brand-spanking new as others on this list, but how often do you get to live in a piece of history? Gorgeous pool, nice rooms, fabulous all you can eat breakfast, plus there’s a good chance you’ll be sharing the lobby or elevator with dignitaries.
Mamilla Hotel (11 Solomon Street). New, contemporary luxury hotel with great location near The Old City, next to Alov Mamilla shopping.
Inbal Hotel (3 Jabotinksy Street). Not quite as grand as the 4-$ hotels above, and a little further away, but may be more bang for the buck. Lobby can be exciting or noisy, depending on your point of view.
SHOPPING – JERUSALEM
ARTS AND CRAFTS LANE: A collection of one-of-a- kind artists’ studios, producing Judaica and jewelry and textiles. Fun to wander and talk to the artists, even if you don’t buy anything. The craftsmanship here is top quality.
ALOV MAMILLA MALL: New upscale shopping/pedestrian mall, set in Old City-like architecture. You’ll recognize store names/labels from home.
ASIA: Wonderful, custom-made jewelry, down the street from The King David Hotel. Talk to the owner/jeweler, who is really a character but offers a wide range of pieces and prices for her clients.
JUDAICA: You can find Judaica all over Jerusalem, but if you are looking for antique, museum quality pieces, check out the stores on both sides of King David Street on the stretch between The King David Hotel and the David Citadel Hotel.
PEDESTRIAN MALL: Check out the entire area bounded by King George Street, Ben Yehuda Street and Jaffa Rd, for a huge selection of stores selling Judaica and jewelry and clothing, coffee and pastry and cheap eats.
PHOTOGRAPHY SHOPS IN THE OLD CITY: There are several good old photo shops in the Christian Quarter, around the corner from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the Via Dolorosa. Our favorite is Elia Photo Service (14 Al Khanka Street).
BETWEEN JERSUALEM AND TEL AVIV
Highway 1 connects these 2 cities and links Ben Gurion Airport to both of them. It is most likely the first highway you will drive on in Israel and don’t be surprised if (like we did) you see a Hasid on a bicycle, tzitzit and payot flapping in the breeze, pedaling along in the middle lane, surrounded by cars whizzing by at 60+ miles per hour: the perfect symbol of modern-day Israel.
If you are driving “up to Jerusalem,” either from Tel Aviv or from the airport, the climb into the Judean hills is spectacularly scenic and the sense of “ascending’ to someplace special is palpable. If you’re in a cab or sherut, after a long, sleepless overnight flight, try to keep your eyes open - you don’t want to miss the views!
Note the tanks along the side of the road. These are remnants from the War of Independence, left in place where they were attacked. They used to be rusty and look more authentic, but for some reason were spruced up and painted an odd shade of green a few years ago.
If you have time, stop at the LATRUN POLICE STATION: its ARMORED BRIGADE MUSEUM has a large collection of armored vehicles and you can climb the tanks. There is a documentary explaining the significant battles fought here, as well as a memorial wall.
If JERUSALEM - CITY OF GOLD - is the spiritual soul of Israel, TEL AVIV – THE WHITE CITY – is its pulsing, life-sustaining heart. Keep in mind that Tel Aviv is only about 100 years old. Prior to that, there was nothing there, just sand. As a result, TEL AVIV is more about street life and culture, coffee houses and cafes, open air markets, beaches, promenading along the shore and the avenues, than about historical sites and museums. Nevertheless, it’s still worth a couple of days, at least. As an added bonus, the whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the largest collection of International Style architecture and buildings in the world.
BEACH: Even more Jewish than Ventnor or Margate, the beach at Tel Aviv is where you go if you want to dip your toes in the Mediterranean. There are outdoor showers, restaurants, food stands and other facilities to take care of all your needs for your afternoon at the beach. Just bring your sun block and your Speedo and spend some time soaking up the rays, playing Kadima (paddle ball) and resting up from (or for) all the traveling you have been (or will be) doing.
BEIT HATFUTSOT: The Museum of the Diaspora, located a few miles outside the city, this is more of an educational, interactive display than a collection of artifacts. If you already know your Jewish history of the Diaspora, you may be somewhat disappointed, but most visitors find this a fun, informative museum.
DIZENGOFF BOULEVARD: Named after the first mayor of Tel Aviv, this is the city’s main place to stroll and shop or sit and sip a cup of coffee. Maybe not as chi-chi as some of Tel Aviv’s side streets (especially those near the high-end hotel district), this is where the natives come to drink and be seen. If you’re in the area, you may want to check out the AGAM FIRE AND WATER FOUNTAIN at Dizengoff Square, though we hear this monument has fallen into disrepair and is slated to be restored.
ERETZ YISRAEL MUSEUM: Located a couple of miles outside the city, on the campus of Tel Aviv University, you can usually find interesting special exhibits as well as worthwhile displays here pertaining to “the Land of Israel.”
FLORENTINE: Hip area of Tel Aviv, stores and coffee shops and lots of young Israelis.
JAFFA: The original port city that pre-dates the city of Tel Aviv by at least 3000 years. Lots of shops, flea markets and restaurants, as well as some historical displays and buildings. Nicely set on a promontory jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea. You can even walk here from downtown Tel Aviv, along the Tayelet Promenade, if you’ve got the legs for it.
NEVE ZEDEK: Like Florentine, the other really hip neighborhood of Tel Aviv. One of the first residential areas built outside the protective walls of Jaffa, this is where the youth of Tel Aviv drink coffee, eat, shop and just hang out. Fun to walk around. Check out the SUZANNE DALLAL DANCE CENTER and catch a performance, if dance is your thing.
PALMACH MUSEUM: This new museum is home to a modern, multi-media presentation showing the history of the Palmach from 1941 to the War of Independence and the establishment of the State of Israel in1948. Learn about the struggle against the British and the youth movement’s motivation and dedication in seeking independence.
PORT OF TEL AVIV: At the north end of the city, right on the water, a collection of restaurants and shops that you might want to check out.
PROMENADE/TAYELET: Tel Aviv’s boardwalk, without the boards. Promenade along the whole length of the shore, if you want, all the way from the Port in the north to Jaffa in the south. The place to stroll and enjoy the sea views and breezes.
RECHOVOT: This city, 12 miles south of Tel Aviv, is home to The Weizman Institute as well as the AYALON INSTITUTE/MUSEUM, which was the first Israeli ammunition factory, hidden under the laundry of a kibbutz and operated secretly during the British Mandate. The factory and the bullets it produced played an important role for the Haganah underground and then the Israel Defense Forces during the War of Independence.
ROTHSCHILD BOULEVARD: Beautiful collection of International Style buildings, in various states of repair. Keep in mind, at the time Tel Aviv was being built, its citizens may have embraced the new, strictly functional, utopian INTERNATIONAL STYLE of architecture, but limited resources meant they couldn’t always use the most durable (expensive) materials. Stroll along this tree-lined boulevard and imagine these buildings in all their glory.
TEL AVIV MUSEUM OF ART: If you love art, this is a MUST SEE. A major collection, some of it displayed in a brand new addition which opened last year to universally positive reviews. Check it out.
TEL AVIV - RESTAURANTS
Cordelia. $$$$ Jaffa. Excellent, Arab-French fusion. Multi-course meal will leave you really satisfied and really full.
TEL AVIV – HOTELS
Sheraton Towers. Well located, right on the beach, with sea-water pool and a variety of restaurants.
Tel Aviv Hilton. Good location on the beach, overlooking the Mediterranean. Large hotel with a large outdoor pool. Easy access to the beachside promenade. Several good restaurants.
COAST - NORTH OF TEL AVIV
HERZLIYA: Resort community that our parents used to frequent, it’s still posh, with lots of expensive villas, spas and golf courses. For the sybaritic traveler.
NETANYA: North of Herzliya, this typical modern Israeli city is a great place to purchase diamonds, if you’re so inclined. Lots of malls, beach front promenade. TULIP Restaurant, right on the beach, is very decent and kosher.
CAESAREA: Herod’s port, check out the Roman and Crusader ruins, including the Roman theater, houses and aquaduct, all beautifully set, right on the shore. Expect to spend half a day here and grab lunch at one of the wide range of restaurants on site. A MUST SEE.
HAIFA: “ Jerusalem prays, Tel Aviv plays and HAIFA WORKS. “
Israel’s third largest city, home of the TECHNION , BAHAI TEMPLE and GARDENS (book a reserved tour, if gardens/gardening is your thing), ELIJAH’S CAVE, GERMAN COLONY and THE CLANDESTINE MUSEUM.
BUT MOST IMPORTANT FOR BETH DAVIDITES: this is the home of OR HADASH, our sister synagogue and A MUST DO. Spend time with Rabbi Edgar Nof and some of his congregants and enjoy Israeli hospitality at its best.
RESTAURANTS: Jacko $$ - excellent grilled fish and Israeli salads.
ACCO/ACRE: Across the bay from Haifa, check out this CRUSADER CITY, TURKISH BATHS, SHUK, BRITISH PRISON and scenic port. But, keep your wits about you and don’t stray too far off the beaten paths in the shuk.
ROSH HANIKRA: Take the cable car down to the spectacularly set cliffs and grottos, carved out by the sea, right near the Lebanese border. Expect to get spritzed by the ocean spray and welcome the opportunity if it’s a particularly hot day. A very worthwhile, outdoor nature activity, if you’re in the region.
THE GALILEE, THE GOLAN AND OTHER PLACES NORTH OF JERUSALEM
In addition to the places listed below, come here to hike, ride camels, raft the Jordan River, jeep tour the Golan, rappel at Manara Cliff, tour a kibbutz and in general, just enjoy the great Israeli outdoors.
BANYAS NATURE RESERVE: All the way up north, this wonderful, shady nature reserve is a great outdoor activity, when you need a break from the sun and the heat. Named after the Greek temple to Pan (the remains of which can still be seen), this park offers paths to wander, streams (one of the three sources of the Jordan River) to wade and cross, caves, waterfalls and archaeology.
BEIT ALPHA: Located in the Jazreel Plain, between Megiddo and Beit She’an, the beautiful and well preserved mosaic floor of a 6th century synagogue makes this a worthwhile side trip, if you have the time.
BEIT SHE’AN: Not far from the Jordanian border, this is one of the most impressive and most visited collections of Roman and Byzantine ruins. Check out the theater, the amphitheater, the cardo, etc. But make sure you bring a hat and plenty of water because, as one of our guides once told us, this is among the hottest places on earth.
CAPERNAUM: Set right on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus moved here from Nazareth to preach to the Jews and this is where he first met several of his apostles. Check out what may be the home of St. Peter and try to imagine what the splendid remains of the 2nd century synagogue may have looked like in their heyday, before the Arab/Muslim invasion of the 7th century.
If you have the time, check out the beautiful pink-domed Greek orthodox Church right up the road.
DAN NATURE RESERVE: Much like BANYAS above, here you will find TEL DAN, instead of a temple to a Greek god. Go and enjoy and make sure you bring along your hat and water for the hike.
GAMLA: The name comes from the Hebrew word for camel, this hump shaped hill in the Golan is known as the Masada of the North. Site of a successful Zealot stand off against the Romans, 60,000 legionnaires returned to besiege the hill and 4,000 Jews chose suicide rather than be captured or killed by the Romans. The snake-path (down a steep hill) to Gamla is somewhat difficult, but worth the effort. Go in the springtime, if possible, when the hills are covered with wildflowers.
HATZOR: North of the Sea of Galilee, in the Hula Valley, this is the largest TEL (settlement mound) in the State of Israel. 21 layers of civilization have been uncovered here, including the Canaanite city that Joshua attacked.
KATZRIN: Now the capital of the Golan, home to The Golan Archaeological Museum, which displays relics from all over the region. Check out the ancient synagogue, other antiquities, olive presses and the Gamla winery nearby.
KINERET/SEA OF GALILEE: This harp-shaped lake, on which Jesus may have walked, is the heart of the Galilee region. The whole area is the Mediterranean at its best: beautiful hills dotted with olive and cypress trees, winding roads with scenic overlooks, interesting towns and lots of sites to visit. Spend several days in the area, exploring Israel’s north country.
MEGIDDO: People have been battling here for more than 6000 years, each new victor building its city on top of the one it vanquished, resulting in 20 layers of civilizations that make up this settlement mound (TEL). Battles here have been so frequent and so fierce that a corruption of its name – Har Megiddo – is the source of the Christian phrase Armageddon, the ultimate battle/destruction of the world, which will usher in the second coming (of Jesus or the Messiah). Check out the temples, the houses, and the underground shaft and water tunnel, before it’s too late.
MT OF THE BEATITUDES: Site of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, there’s a pretty Franciscan Church here as well as beautiful panoramic views of the entire region.
SAFED/SFAT: The center of Jewish mysticism and Kaballah, there are several 16th century synagogues here (though their sporadic opening schedules make them difficult to actually visit), as well as an interesting cemetery and an artists colony. During the War of Independence, 35 members of the Palmach captured this city of 12,000 Arabs, in what became known as the Miracle of Sfat. Picturesque, hilly town that’s nice to stroll around and, who knows, you just might buy yourself a painting to bring home as a souvenir.
TEL HAI: Way up north, near the Lebanese border, this early 20th century communal farm is famous for the 8 people (Kiryat Shemona) who died here, defending their land against Arab attackers. The dying words of one of them (Joseph Trumpledor) - “it is good to die for one’s country” – became the motto of the men and women who fought to establish and defend the State of Israel. Our kids marveled at the rustic farm equipment displayed here, a reminder of just how poor and underdeveloped the Land of Israel was in the first decades of the 20th century.
TIBERIAS: Situated right on the Sea of Galilee, with a wide array of hotels and restaurants, this town is a logical base for your stay in the area, even if it is short on charm and sites of real interest. Lakefront promenade, pedestrian mall, lots of stores that cater to tourists, most of which shut down for Shabbat.
ZIPPORI: More ruins, these from the First Temple period. People come here primarily to see the beautiful mosaic floor, which includes the face of a woman that has become known as “The Mona Lisa of the Galilee.”
Ayelet Hashahar – kibbutz guest house, near Tel Hatzor
Hagoshim – kibbutz hotel, a little tired and somewhat basic, with a decent restaurant that serves everything, and recreation facilities that include a large indoor pool, basketball court, etc
Nof Ginosar – kibbutz guest house, right on the Sea of Galilee
Scots Hotel, Tiberias – charming building, nice rooms, beautiful gardens, great breakfast on lovely terrace, pool and sea access, reserve early because the rooms book up fast.
Sheraton, Tiberias – right on the water, exactly what you would expect from this chain.
Dag al Ha Dan – a fish and dairy restaurant, right next to the Dan River
THE JUDEAN DESERT, THE NEGEV AND PLACES SOUTH OF JERUSALEM
ST. GEORGES MONASTERY: On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, which then takes you to EIN GEDI and MASADA, this gorgeous turquoise domed monastery, perched on a cliff-side, gives new meaning to the word remote. Breath-taking to behold, located in Wadi Qelt, don’t get out of your car and walk to the overlook unless you’ve been assured it is safe or if you’re with a guide who knows what he/she is doing. Israeli hikers were killed here a few years ago and, even with a guide, we felt a little uncomfortable here on foot, so you may just want to enjoy the view from your car windows – but be sure to slow down and enjoy the view.
QUMRAN: The Essenes (an ascetic sect) were here, but no one is sure exactly what they were doing at this location. What is certain is that a shepherd boy, 2000 years later, exploring the nearby caves, came upon some jugs filled with scrolls that are considered one of the most important archaeological/.archival discoveries of the 20th century: The Dead Sea Scrolls. You will see these at The Israeli Museum and you just might want to stop here to see where they were found.
EIN GEDI: What’s better than an oasis in a desert? As you’re driving down the road through the Judean Desert, marveling at landscape like you’ve probably never seen before, you will notice a collection of palm trees and other greenery in the distance. This is EIN GEDI, where a spring brings life to the desert. Stop here, wade in the waters, bathe in the pools and the waterfalls, hike the shady trails and admire the ibixes and just appreciate the fact that you are wet and cool, right in the middle of the desert. A MUST.
DEAD SEA: The lowest point on earth (1,300 feet below sea level), this salty sea will make you feel so buoyant you can actually sit up in the water (though you won’t be able to walk on it, for several reasons). The water is warm and thick (think mineral oil) and its salinity will sting any open cuts you have, but like the mud-baths at the nearby spa, it is said to have medicinal value and will certainly make you look and feel more beautiful. Stop at the spa, which has a restaurant, changing rooms, a really nice pool, and offers beauty treatments and massages.
MASADA: Perched on top of a mountain/plateau, surrounded by lunar-like landscape, this is where Herod built one of his palaces and where a community of 900+ Jews withstood a Roman siege, during the first Jewish revolt. If you’re feeling spry, climb the snake-path up to the summit, preferably in the early morning hours, just in time to watch the sun rise over the desert mountains. Or, take the cable car to the top and tour the remains of the mountain fortress, where the Jewish hold-outs chose suicide/death rather than surrender to the Romans. In the heat of the summer, we have found that if you cannot get here fairly early in the morning, wait until around 4:00 PM, when a desert breeze usually kicks in from the west and makes the whole tour more enjoyable. But whenever you go, hats and lots of water are a must. NOT TO BE MISSED.
HEBRON: Tombs of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. I’D TURN BACK IF I WERE YOU.
BEER SHEVA: Capital of the Negev, home to the university and a rapidly growing city, this is where Abraham purchased a well and set up a tent for himself and his wives and children. A nearby well might just be the one.
AVDAT: Remains of a Nabatean town, a caravansarie/stopping point on the spice route from the Arabian peninsula to the Mediterranean Sea, a worthwhile place to stop and visit as you work your way to places further south.
SDE BOKER: Kibbutz that Israel’s first prime minister – David Ben Gurion – called home and retired to. Check out the small, simple hut he lived in with his wife. From here, drive down to their graves, perched right on the edge of the WILDERNESS OF ZIN. Ben Gurion chose this site as his final resting place because of the truly spectacular view – truly awesome (and somewhat awful, gives real meaning to the word “wilderness”).
MITZPE (viewpoint/lookout)/ MAHKTESH (crater) RAMON: A geological wonder, a huge crater created by a splitting of the earth’s surface, you can take jeep tours or drive and wander/hike the floor of the crater (150 square miles large), viewing rock formations and wildlife and glistening mineral deposits like you’ve never seen anywhere else. Just make sure you have your hat and lots of water. If you’re really lucky, Israeli fighter jets from the nearby airfields may fly overhead. There’s a promenade at the top of the crater in Mitzpe Ramon, but don’t get too close to the edge if you don’t like heights. Check out the Beresheet Hotel, brand new and gorgeous, right at the cliffs’ edge, overlooking the crater.
EILAT: At the very bottom of the Negev, this resort community has some really nice/fancy/glitzy hotels. Come here to relax and pamper yourself, to sit still or to snorkel with exotic fish or ride the submarine (not for the claustrophobic) to check out the coral reefs. Also, a good launching off point, if you have the time, to visit Wadi Rum (where “Lawrence of Arabia” was filmed) and PETRUS (at least an overnight trip) across the Jordanian border.