If you want to understand Israel, its people, and its raison d’etre you need to go beyond the New York Times or a history book and experience it first hand. It is a country filled with contrasts. The State of Israel is 65 years old yet ancient; steeped in ancient religious ritual, it’s also cutting-edge entrepreneurial. The people of Israel dance and celebrate and pray as soldiers stand protectively on alert.
As Israel is a small country, it’s easy to visit a great deal in just 10 days. Our 10-day trip took us from Jerusalem up to the Golan Heights, over to the shores of Akko and, to the city of Haifa and into Tel Aviv. We added an overnight to Jordan to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Petra, and witnessed immediately the cultural differences between these countries. Throughout our travels we observed a consistency amongst the people of Israel; a combination of excitement, passion and national pride.
Although never afraid, we were constantly reminded of the fragility of this state. Its neighboring countries are so close that we were able to see almost every one of its borders just looking out the car window. We saw the lights of Lebanon from the Golan and the shores of Jordan from the Red Sea in Eilat. We could see how close Syria was when we drove through Jordan to Petra. From the city of Aqaba in Jordan we abutted Saudi Arabia and looked directly across the Red Sea to Egypt.
Should you decide to go to Israel, it’s easy to find a tour. My husband and I put together a DIY trip with our dear friends and the help of a recommended Israeli guide. If you’re looking for a starting place for your trip – our itinerary may be of help. We “named” each day with its own theme to distinguish one from the other.
Day 1: Jerusalem: We Were Here First
OLD CITY OF JERUSALEM
This sacred spot shares its history with Jews, Muslims and Christians as the center of extreme spirituality and conflict. We explored the most ancient City of David crouching through underground tunnels (the original sewers – not for the claustrophobic) – then climbed to the highest point in the Old City (almost)– it was as close as we could get to the Temple on the Mount which is off limits to anyone but Muslims on Fridays. At the Western (Wailing) Wall we tucked our prayers in its crevices becoming part of its history.
We bargained in the Arab Shouk (marketplace) and made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre –the center of Christianity. The array of religious garb was fantastic to observe, from the vestments of the American clerics to the robes of the Franciscan Monks, the Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian and Coptic Christians, Armenians, and the Turkish Muslim Guards –the Gatekeepers of the church.
We sat for a long time imagining what this spot was like thousands of years ago.
In the evening – we revisited the Western Wall for Friday night Shabbat celebrations. It was packed. Fathers and sons danced joyously and separately from the women, donning sect-defining clothing such as black hats, fur hats or yarmulkes (skullcaps) and wearing robes, shawls and suits.
Day 2: Mountain to Sea
Jerusalem was virtually closed, as it was Shabbat, so we journeyed back to Herod’s time at
Masada and climbed like soldiers to the top and visited the amazing ruins.
By day’s end we were floating ON (vs. IN) the Dead Sea as the sun set.
Day 3: Jerusalem –We Remember!
We spent the entire morning at the Holocaust memorial – Yad Vashem. This experiential immersion into the Holocaust left us speechless and moved. We rebounded at the Machane Yehuda Shuk (market) and had an incredible lunch inside the shuk at Café Mizrachi. Our afternoon was spent wandering the new Israel Museum – another must see.
Day 4: Communes — Then and Now
Our visit to the ancient Roman city of Bet Shean was followed by an afternoon in the spiritual artisan village of Safed, the center of mysticism. The village is an artist colony of Israelis and transplants from places as diverse as Brooklyn, California, France and England
Day 5: The Old Man and The Sea
The Mediterranean seaside village of Akko was one of our favorites. A three-hour lunch at Uri Buri’s fish restaurant was a “Ten.” Uri regaled us with stories – and brought us some of his favorite dishes. Best food of our entire trip – hands down!
Day 6: Technology and Humanity
This day required pre-planning, as our stops were not open to the general public. The Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa embodies the essence of “Start-Up Nation.” It’s the MIT of Israel and cultivates Israel’s entrepreneurial thinking. The next stop – the youth village of Yemin Orde — dedicated to creating schooling and a home for at-risk teens from various countries.
Day 7: Tel Aviv, Old and New
A beautiful morning walk to Jaffa along the Mediterranean – a smattering of history and plenty of galleries followed by the Jaffa Flea Market. The afternoon was reserved for the Palmach Museum. – There we were immersed in the 1947/48 experience of the young fighters responsible for the founding of Israel. Do Not Miss This! (You must reserve ahead).
Day 8: Jeeps and Bedouins
We flew to Eilat then crossed the border to Jordan (on foot). Our local guide greeted us with a great sense of humor and warmth. First stop — the sand and rock formations of the Wadi Rim (where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed). We then headed to Petra to spend the night.
Day 9: The Lost City of Petra
A full day’s walk with the ancients back in time through a lost city that was uncovered as the crossroads between the Far East and Palestine. Spectacular – worth the effort.
Day 10: Chillin’ in Tel Aviv
No agenda. Exhausted from our Jordanian adventure we slept late. We wandered through the Carmel food market into the Soho of Tel Aviv (Neve Tsedek). We spent the rest of the day on the beach hanging out until it was time to head to the airport.
We all agreed this trip was a “TEN.”