Nothing underscores the variety of Israel’s attractions more than realizing that within a few hours you can go from the snowy heights of Mount Hermon to the Judean Desert and the saltiest sea on earth, the Dead Sea, while visiting ancient biblical cities, covered markets and a high-rise metropolis on the way. This is what makes Israel truly a destination with something for everyone.
In Israel you have to use the word “old” sparingly – the age of most of its cities is counted not in decades or in centuries, but in millennia. The ingenuity and complexity of some of these historical gems have won them a place on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List. And of course, Jerusalem is an incomparable highlight that is both historical and spiritual. Restored 19th century villages like Rosh Pina in the Upper Galilee and Zichron Ya’akov on Mount Carmel reveal another side of Israel – its pioneering days. Shops along these streets feature local arts and crafts that make the best gifts. They are often artist-owned as well, which holds the promise of getting to know some very interesting folks.
There’s no place like Tel Aviv to indulge your urban tastes. Classified by geographers as a “world city,” it offers museums, opera, theater and dance, fine restaurants with cuisines from around the world, its own beautifully restored 19th-century quarter, Neve Tzedek and even antiquities, in the form of its “older sister” – Jaffa, which also has galleries galore.
Tel Aviv’s Mediterranean location also means quality beach-time can be part of the experience. As for other beaches, there’s variety there, too: the sand on Ashkelon’s fine-grained shores has been buffeted by the waves all the way from the Nile Delta, while in the north, rocky and romantic coves sprout lovely wildflowers in their season. At the Caesarea beach, divers can take an underwater tour of the Roman antiquities. And for fresh-water fun, head for Tiberias and the Kinneret.
Another kind of diving experience stars at Israel’s Red Sea Riviera on the Gulf of Eilat where a wonder-sea of corals and exotic fish awaits. In addition to hiking and diving, other adventure challenge experiences are to be had in the desert cliffs around Eilat and in the Negev and the forested ridges of the Upper Galilee, including cycling, off-road touring and rappelling. Even those snowy heights are not one-dimensional: in the winter they boast ski-runs with all the amenities, but when the snow melts, Mount Hermon becomes a hiker’s delight with trails to charming alpine-like meadows and shady streams.
Israel boasts a number of unique edutainment attractions that families love – Jerusalem’s Time Elevator, Mini Israel, the new Kings City in Eilat and the Haganah Museum are only a few of the fun-while-you-learn experiences in store.
Lodgings come in all shapes and sizes, from fine international chains to budget hotels and – great for the family or a romantic interlude – country-style bed-and-breakfast accommodations.
Plan your trip around the date of one of Israel’s many annual international events - whether music, sports, theater or film – and see how all the wonderful pieces fit perfectly together.
The Visual Arts
The art scene in Israel had its beginnings in the early part of the 20th century when the rebirth of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel was beginning to take shape.
Israel's leading school of the visual arts – Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design - was established in 1906 by sculptor Boris Schatz. Named for Bezalel Ben Uri - the first artist mentioned in the Bible - its establishment is considered the first major milestone in the development of art in modern Israel.
The first works of art to emerge from Bezalel were of a traditional Jewish and Biblical nature. Gradually, however, a modern secular ideology emerged and art disassociated from religious, Diaspora-oriented traditions began to develop. This movement, known as the “Rebels of Bezalel”, sought to pay homage to the Middle East and the “New Jew” by depicting the landscape and local people of the country, and its members sought to express their newfound identity as “Hebrew” rather than “Jewish” artists. This movement was established by Avraham Melnikov, Yosef Zaritzky, and Reuven Rubin, and is considered to have had a major influence upon many aspects of Israeli life to this day.
Bezalel underwent numerous changes until it became the leading academy for art and design and moved to its present Jerusalem location on the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University.
Throughout the school's existence Bezalel graduates have taught young artists who have pursued many new directions and broadened the landscape of local creativity to encompass other institutions, museums, and galleries both in Israel and abroad.
Israel art is displayed in museums and galleries throughout the country. Indeed, there are more museums per capita in Israel than in any country on earth.
The Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra has been Israel's national orchestra since its establishment as the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra in 1936. Its musical director, Indian-born Zubin Mehta, is considered one of the world’s greatest conductors and musicians. The orchestra hosts renowned guest conductors and musicians, and appears in concerts throughout Israel and abroad. The orchestra’s home base is the Frederic Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv.
The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra was established in the 1940s by the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Its musical director is Leon Botstein and its base is the Henry Crown auditorium of the Jerusalem Theater. All concerts are recorded and broadcast on Israel’s classical music station. Additional orchestras in Israel include the Haifa Symphony Orchestra, the Ramat Gan Orchestra, the Be'er Sheva Simfonetta, and the Israeli Chamber Orchestra.
Theater in Israel is the product of many cultural origins and consists of numerous small and large theater groups of various styles and genres. The first theater professionals in Israel were immigrants who came Israel from Europe and Russia, creating a legacy that maintains an intense dialogue with innovative modern theatrical thinking.
The Habima Theater (Habimah means “The Stage”) was started in the first decades of the 20th century in Moscow, and its original members immigrated to Tel Aviv in the 1920’s. Considered “The National Theatre of Israel,” Habimah" presents both classical and contemporary plays. The company performs countrywide, but its home is the elegant Habimah Theater in the heart of Tel Aviv.
The Cameri Theatre company was founded in 1944 as a local, younger alternative to the “Eastern European” Habimah. More than 60 years later, the Cameri gives some 1,700 performances a year – plays, comedies and musicals – and is headquartered in a complex of 5 auditoriums at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center.
Additional theater companies in Israel include:
Tsavta in Tel Aviv presents mainly fringe theater.
Gesher caters to the Russian-speaking and Eastern European theater audience.
The Haifa Theater is a large, contemporary theater group which organizes an annual theater festival of children's plays, and also presents plays in Arabic.
The Yaffo Arab-Jewish Theater presents fringe theater nature.
The Be'er Sheva Theater is a large theater group located in Be'er Sheva in southern Israel. The group performs original productions and hosting plays from other theaters.
The Khan , a theater company in Jerusalem that performs in the atmospheric Khan, a former Turkish Bath complex.
The Israeli Ballet
The Israeli Ballet company performs a rich repertoire of classical ballet.
Bat Sheva Dance Company
Israel’s most renowned dance company was founded by Batsheva de Rothschild in the 1960’s. Today, its artistic director, Ohad Naharin, is considered to be one of the most renowned choreographers in the world. The Batsheva Dance Company is headquartered at the Suzanne Dellal Dance Center in Tel Aviv.
The Kibbutz Dance Company
A popular dance company that originated in the northern kibbutz Ga'aton, the company stages performances for adults and children that are choreographed by Rami Be'er. Its performances of modern dance have been acclaimed throughout the world. Additional leading Israeli dance companies include Bat Dor, Inbal, the Noa Dar Company, and Mayumana.
The Israeli Opera at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center
The Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center offers a variety of artistic activities, including dance performances, classical music and jazz concerts, performances for children, in depth back stage tours, fine arts exhibitions and above all - the Israeli Opera productions, which are appreciated by opera professionals all over the world.
TAPAC, featuring a state of the arts performance hall, is located in a beautiful building designed by the late Israeli architect Yaacov Rechter, with a modern day foyer designed by renowned Israeli architect Ron Arad, in the center of the exciting cultural hub of the city of Tel Aviv- Yafo, the cultural capital of Israel. The Israeli Opera has established itself as one of the leading international opera houses, featuring leading opera professionals (singers, conductors, directors and designers) and co-produces its major productions with some of the major opera houses around the world. The Israeli Opera has been invited and performed in international opera festivals around the world.
Since its inauguration 23 years ago, the Israeli Opera initiates a vast education and outreach program all around Israel, in order to expose new and different audiences to the magical world of opera and to make opera accessible to as wide an audience as possible.
Tel Aviv’s Mediterranean location means quality beach-time can be part of the experience. As for other beaches, there’s variety there, too: the sand on Ashkelon’s fine-grained shores has been buffeted by the waves all the way from the Nile Delta, while in the north, rocky and romantic coves sprout lovely wildflowers in their season. At the Caesarea beach, divers can take an underwater tour of the Roman antiquities. And for fresh-water fun, head for Tiberias and the Kinneret.
The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth (417 meters below sea level) and the saltiest body of water. The revitalizing properties of its air and water have earned it the title of “lowest health spa in the world.” The western shore is dotted with beaches, spas, and accommodations at all levels, amid fascinating arid-zone agriculture. The Judean Desert gets close-up and personal via jeep, bicycle, camel and rappelling. The spectacular antiquities of Masada, Qumran and Ein Gedi, and the Ein Gedi oasis are minutes away, as are forays into the world of desert monasticism at nearby monasteries.
Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) is Israel’s largest fresh-water lake – a prime tourist attraction as well as a vital water source. Its beaches offer water parks, campgrounds and accommodations, including hotels in the lakeside city of Tiberias. Birdwatchers love the Jordan Park (where the Jordan River runs into the lake) where you can also rent kayaks. The new Kinneret Trail for hikers surrounds the lake. For Christians, the lake is memorable for its pilgrimage sites like Capernaum and Tabgha, and the famed ancient Galilee boat is on display at lakeside Kibbutz Ginnosar.
The Beaches of Western Galilee
The Achziv Beach, the strip of Israel’s coastline extending north of the resort city of Nahariya to the region’s prime tourist attraction of Rosh Hanikra, offers fun in the sun, swimming, cycling, hiking, fishing, and coves and lagoons to explore.
You’ll discover the inlets of the sandstone ridges east of the beach are not only romantic, but they are also home to special plants and animals that thrive against all odds in the salty air and spray.
The Achziv coast offers a number of swimming options.
The Betzet Beach is free and has few frills; other beaches with entrance fees offer more services.
In addition to spying star-fish and small octopi, lucky beach-combers sometimes see dolphins cavorting off the coast. In early spring, the coves become a carpet of wildflowers, which makes a walk along the beach even more pleasurable, and the blooming sea daffodil perfumes August evenings.
Netanya is a lively seacoast town situated on the Sharon coastal plain, and a center for tourism that attracts thousands of visitors each year. The lovely beaches that extend along its entire length, its numerous vacation facilities, and hotels have made it a popular tourist resort.
Ashkelon is the southernmost city on the Mediterranean shoreline. In recent years, its 12 kilometers of beautiful beaches have attracted both Israelis and foreign tourists. The city’s remaining public beaches stretch out to the north of the National Park, with an abundance of holiday facilities and hotels. The seashore also has a Marina. Nearby there is a beautiful promenade, and the Ashkelona Water Park, offering families an attractive water experience.
The bay is one of the major attractions, thanks to the beautiful beaches, the developed water sports and some of the best diving spots in the world. In the south of the city is the Coral Reserve, with splendid tropical fish among the reefs. Within the precincts of the reserve is the Underwater Observatory, with a marine museum that displays collections of fascinating sea animals. Not far from the observatory is the Dolphin Reef with its resident school of dolphins.
Rosh Hashanah, the holiday that marks the beginning of the Jewish year, is in the Hebrew month of Tishrei, which coincides with late September and early October.
The period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called “The Ten Days of Repentance,” during which people have the opportunity to atone for their sins.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest and most important holiday in Judaism. It is a day of fasting and prayer that is celebrated on the 10th of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
Yom Kippur marks the end of the “Ten Days of Repentance,” or the “High Holidays,” and grants Jews a last opportunity to obtain forgiveness and absolution for their sins in the previous year. According to Jewish belief, on Yom Kippur judgment is passed on each person for the coming year. In order to be worthy of forgiveness from sins, this day is devoted to spiritual repentance and a commitment to start the New Year with a clean conscience, secure in the knowledge that God forgives every person who truly regrets his misdeeds.
Sukkot, or Feast of Booths, is the third holiday in the Hebrew month of Tishrei, and is one of the most important Jewish holidays. Sukkot is one of the three pilgrimage holidays, when the whole Jewish people would come to Jerusalem in ancient times, when the Holy Temple was there, and would offer animal and grain sacrifices. It is a particularly joyous holiday that combines religious and agricultural elements.
Sukkot lasts seven days, from the 15th to the 21st of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (usually the middle of October). The first day and last days are particularly festive: the first is a holy day, a rest day, when no productive work is allowed, similar to Shabbat, so most businesses are closed; the eighth day from the beginning of Sukkot is called Shemini Atseret, is a separate holiday. The intermediate days are similar to weekdays.
Unlike most of the major Jewish holidays, Chanukah’s origin is not in the Bible, but rather in events that happened later. This is a holiday that lasts eight days and begins on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev (usually in December). There are no completely holy days, so businesses are open as usual.
Chanukah marks a historic event that took place in the Seleucid period, in the 2nd century BCE. A few of the Seleucid kings (the dynasty that followed Alexander the Great, and which was based in Syria) tried to force the Jews in the Land of Israel to adopt certain customs that were against the laws of Judaism. The worst decree was when King Antiochus IV ordered the installation of a statue in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Purim is one of the happiest and most joyous holidays in Jewish tradition, a holiday whose religious precepts include being happy, and even getting drunk. This is a holiday that allows even the most serious Torah scholars to get caught up in the spirit of amusement, and enjoy the carnival atmosphere.
The source of this holiday is in the Biblical Book of Esther, which relates the saving of Persian Jewry from Haman, chief minister to Persian King Ahashuerus, who was plotting to kill all the kingdom’s Jews (the time frame of this story is estimated as between the destruction of the First Temple and the building of the Second Temple, in the late 6th century BCE). The date on which Purim is observed, the 14th of the Jewish month of Adar (usually in March), in keeping with the date Haman had determined for all the Jews to be killed. Purim celebrations continue through the following day, which is called Shushan Purim.
Pesach, or Passover, is a major holiday in Jewish tradition, and is one of the three pilgrimage holidays, along with Sukkot and Shavuot. These are the holidays on which the whole Jewish people would come to Jerusalem in ancient times, when the Holy Temple was there, and would offer animal and grain sacrifices. Since the destruction of the Temple, a few of the holiday traditions have been retained, without the pilgrimage and the sacrifices, and many new traditions have been added.
Pesach is also called the holiday of Freedom, and this aspect of the holiday is emphasized in the rituals and prayers: the exodus from slavery to freedom symbolizes physical and spiritual redemption and man’s aspiration to be free.
Holocaust Remembrance Day
Yom Hasho’a, Israel’s Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and Heroism, is held on the 27th day of Nissan (towards the end of April or beginning of May), one week after Pesach (Passover). The day is dedicated to the memory of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis and to the heroism of the Jewish resistance to the Holocaust. The date was set to mark the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising on the eve of Pesach, April 19, 1943.
Memorial Day for the Fallen of Israel's Wars and for Terror Victims Yom Hazikaron, the Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and for Terror Victims is marked every year on the fourth of Iyar (towards the end of April or beginning of May,) one week after the Holocaust Remembrance Day and two weeks after Pesach (Passover.) The day is dedicated to commemorating the country’s soldiers and members of security forces, the memory of the fallen from the pre-state undergrounds, and to victims of terrorism.
Yom Hazikaron Customs
There is hardly anybody in Israel who has not lost a family member, friend or acquaintance in Israel’s wars, which makes this day significant for every Israeli. Many go to commemoration ceremonies, and family members of the fallen go on this day to military cemeteries.
Independence Day, Israel national holiday, marks Israel’s Declaration of Independence with the end of the British Mandate. It is the only full holiday in the calendar decreed by law without a tradition of hundreds or thousands of years.
Independence Day is on the fifth day of the Jewish month of Iyar (from the end of April till mid-May), the day in which David Ben-Gurion, the state’s first prime minister, declared the country’s independence in 1948. It was declared a full holiday in a law enacted in the Knesset in 1949. Over the years various traditions evolved to celebrate the holiday, and it is now marked by family picnics in scenic spots all over the country.
Shavuot, the Holiday of Weeks, is one of the three pilgrimage holidays, along with Pesach and Sukkot. These are the holidays on which the whole Jewish people would come to Jerusalem in ancient times, when the Holy Temple was there, and would offer animal and grain sacrifices.
Shavuot is observed at the end of the counting of the Omer: the counting of seven weeks (actually 50 days) from the first day of Pesach. At the beginning of the counting, Jews would bring an Omer (Biblical measure) of grain from the first barley harvest to the Holy Temple, and at the end would bring an Omer of grain from the first wheat harvest. The seven weeks in the counting of the Omer are what give the holiday its name.
Traveling festivals and local productions take place in Israel throughout the year. They include art-oriented festivals such as stringed-instrument festivals, children's theater, festivals for promoting citizens' rights through visual arts, numerous film festivals, and street festivals featuring food and drinks.
The Israel Festival
The Israeli festival is Israel’s leading cultural festival, held every May and June in Jerusalem. The festival features performances of music, dance, and theater from around the world.
The Karmiel Dance Festival
The Karmiel Dance Festival is held in the northern city of Karmieleach July. The festival includes dance performances and public folk dancing sessions.
The Acre (Ako) Alternative Theater Festival
The city of Acre hosts a festival of alternative theater each year during the holiday of Sukkot. Alternative theater productions are staged indoors and on the street.
The Eilat International Jazz Festival
The Eilat International Jazz Festival takes place during the last week in August in the southern resort of Eilat, features leading jazz musicians from around the world.
A family vacation is always about spending quality time together. A family vacation in Israel means spending that quality time not only drawing closer to each other, but building a lasting love of the land and its heritage and memories to cherish over the generations. The best news about traveling to Israel with your kids is that because most Israelis go on vacation with the whole family, Israel is very child-friendly. The easier nature trails, for example, are even officially designated “family trails.” And if you are planning to visit Israel during summer or winter school vacations and especially during the interim days of Passover and Sukkot, you’ll find dozens of Israel Nature and Parks Authority sites as well as museums to be treasure-troves of fun and learning – from costumed guides to hands-on workshops in pottery, mosaic-making, bread-baking and other crafts. Some of the ancient sites come with their own built-in surprises for kids, such as mysterious tunnels and caves to crawl through and secret stone staircases to imposing towers that aspiring young wizards will love.
Fun with furry, four-footed friends is a big hit, too, not only at world-class zoos like the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem, but also at the petting zoos of many kibbutzim and moshavim, some of which also offer country-style accommodations. And kids never forget their first view of the world from high on top of a camel when they visit a Bedouin tent. In Eilat kids can swim with the dolphins at a beautiful private beach where the family can spend the day. Some kibbutzim and moshavim also have special activities based on their produce or special history – one has a honey museum for example; another shows off its pioneer past with dress-up dramatizations and other activities that kids enjoy.
Israeli hotels, especially those in resort towns like Eilat and Tiberias, usually have a “kid’s club,” hosting arts and crafts and other activities. A great option for family touring is Israel’s network of bed-and-breakfast lodgings where the homey atmosphere means that at the end a day’s touring kids can let off steam by running around on the grass or the playground, while at least a basic kitchenette can make relaxed “home-cooked” meals an option.
When you’re getting ready for your Israel experience, make planning part of the fun as you all gather around the computer screen and start by searching “Israel + Kids” to build a wish-list with your kids of sites the whole family will enjoy. If you’re planning a trip with your community or congregation, a committee can help plan sightseeing with kids in mind, as well as activities like a tour newspaper to which youngsters can use computer skills to contribute. Look into the possibility of having your travel planner include a youth counselor on your tour who will work with the children. Another option is a private tour, where you can communicate with your guide ahead of time and plan all the sites and experiences you and your family will love best.
Like the United States, Israel is an ethnic melting pot of cultures, religions and immigrants. As a result, the food scene in Israel is extraordinarily diverse and also of a very high standard. 80% of Israelis are Jews of whom more than half were born in Israel. But most of their parents, grandparents or great grandparents came to Israel from more than 120 countries, bringing with them foods, recipes and food traditions from six continents. And the 20% of non-Jewish Israelis have their own food traditions too. Israel is also a part of the Western world and very little happens in Los Angeles, London, Tokyo and Paris that doesn’t find its way to Israel within a few weeks. Put all this together and you have the ingredients for one of the most dynamic, fascinating – and delicious – food scenes in the world.
If you’d ask an Israeli 25 or 30 years ago what is the country’s typical fare, chances are the answer would be felafel, humus, tehina, with a side order of couscous or gefilte fish. A lot has happened in 25 or 30 years. All these dishes still exist, of course; indeed the first four are ubiquitous. But Israel has it all now, from hamburgers (Israel’s first McDonald’s opened in the 90’s) to pizza to sushi (more sushi restaurants per capita in Tel Aviv than in any city on earth, including Tokyo), to the cuisines of India and China, to some of the finest influences of Paris, Brussels, Lyon, Barcelona and New York – the Israel food scene is utterly sophisticated and in step with the latest trends. Many of Israel’s leading chefs have studied, prepped, apprenticed at some of the finest restaurants in the world.
But there’s more. There are restaurants in Israel that serve cuisines that exist nowhere else on earth: particularly the cuisines from areas now devoid of Jews, where large Jewish populations created their own eclectic cuisines, such as in Salonika, Dubrovnik, Tripolitania, Mesopotamia, Persia, Yemen and Bukhara.
There are two elements that make food in Israel so unique. One is the location on the shores of the Mediterranean. Like Turkey, Greece, Italy, France and Spain, the cuisine reflects the warm sun, the olives that grow on the trees, the olive-oil they press, and the breads, fish and meats that have made the Mediterranean the source of what is considered by many as the world’s healthiest diet and, quite simply, the source of the best things to eat. Secondly, Israel produces the most splendid quality of fruits, vegetables and dairy products. From the legendary Jaffa oranges first exported to Europe in the 1930’s, to the kiwis, star fruit, citrus, tomatoes, peppers, flowers, yoghurts and cheeses they export today.
In Israel’s early days, pioneers on kibbutzim would rise at 4AM to work the fields and milk the cows, and return for a hearty breakfast at 8 or 9AM. Breakfast would revolve largely around their own produce: eggs, bread, dairy products, fresh vegetables and fruit.
Fast forward five or six decades and the pioneers’ breakfasts have evolved into one of the most delicious – and renowned – gastronomic experiences in Israel. Every hotel serves a version of the “Israeli Breakfast” – invariably a giant buffet of vegetables, salads, cheese, eggs, smoked fish, breads, pastries, yoghurts, cereals and fruit.
Israelis love to eat at all hours. Felafel is considered Israel’s number one street food, and it’s available everywhere. If you’re driving, the restaurants, snack-shops and stores at gas stations are invariably spotless and serve excellent fare. Also ubiquitous are juice stands – where oranges, grapefruits, carrots, pomegranates, grapes are squeezed to order.
“Kosher” is an adjective (“kashrut” is the noun) used to describe food that is “fit” or “clean” or, in other words, prepared and served according to Judaism’s 3,000-year-old dietary laws.
In general, kashrut prohibits the eating of pork (Muslims proscribe pork too) and shellfish, or the mixing of meat ingredients with dairy ingredients. (It’s more complicated than that, but these are the basic nuts and bolts.)
Many Israelis observe kashrut – or some version of it – while many, perhaps most, do not. Almost every hotel in Israel is kosher (so that anyone can eat or stay there), but the majority of Israeli restaurants are not kosher. Restaurants that are kosher display a kashrut certificate; kosher restaurants usually close after lunch on Friday and don’t reopen until late Saturday night, or noon on Sunday.
Drinking in Israel
The water throughout Israel is perfectly safe to drink. Bottled water (still and fizzy) is available everywhere. When touring, be sure to keep hydrated: the sun is hot and many tourists forget they have to keep drinking. Fresh fruit juices are wonderful in Israel, and every kind of soft drink is available. Israeli beer is excellent too.
Wine In Israel
For, 3,000 years, vineyards and wine have been part of the celebration of Jewish holidays and the Sabbath. In the late 19thcentury the wine industry in Israel was given a boost by France's Baron Edmond de Rothschild and by the dawn of the 21st century the production and flavor of wine in Israel had reached the highest international levels of quality. In 2008, the influential U.S. magazine, Wine Spectator, published a wide feature on wine in Israel and summed it up by affirming that “Israel’s wines are world class.”
There are more than 200 wineries in Israel – some tiny, some small, some medium, some massive – producing excellent red and white vintages and sparkling wines.
This sanctity of Mount Zion to all faiths can be seen from afar in its monuments, prominent on the Jerusalem skyline. But the significance of this hill just south of Jerusalem’s Old City walls begins with its name: Zion is one of the Bible’s earliest names for Jerusalem, mentioned when David first established the city (2 Sam. 5:7) as his capital. In fact, the ancient Tomb of David on Mount Zion has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. The building that houses it has served over time as a church, a mosque, and now a synagogue honoring King David, the “sweet singer of Israel” and the ancestor of the Messiah.
Across from it is the Dormition Abbey, built in 1898 by the German Benedictines, with a triangular roof that is a city landmark. This is the place where Catholic tradition marks the Assumption of Mary to Heaven. The church sanctuary is not only spiritually inspiring; it is the venue for special concerts that attract Jerusalemites of all faiths.
One of the Old City’s eight gates, the Zion Gate, opens onto Mount Zion. On a segment of the Ramparts Walk that begins at the Tower of David Museum visitors get a fascinating birds-eye view of Mount Zion, and can then descend at Zion Gate to visit its sites.
The “Old Gesher” was declared among 100 Selected Monuments. The American World Monuments Fund declared this site, located in “Emek Hamaayanot” (Spring Valley) near Beit She’an. The fund, which helps restore and preserve endangered world heritage centers around the globe, announced its choice to include the “Old Gesher” site in its list of 100 selected locations worldwide during a recent press conference in New York.
The second site is the Mamluks Han (a roadside inn), built during the 14th century on the ancient road that used to cross the Jordan River. The Han controlled an important passage and provided services for the caravans that passed through it. In 1837, the Han was destroyed in an earthquake that struck the region, and over the years it was covered by the marlstone soil. Following the declaration, these two sites will be included in a select list of worldwide endangered heritage locations for the purpose of raising money for their restoration.
In addition to these sites, the area has a few additional attractions such as the Turkish railway bridge that was used by the Muslim pilgrim caravans on their way to Mecca between 1905 and 1948, a road that was paved by the British authorities and served the bus route between Jordan and Israel, as well as a promenade built along a part of the bank of the Jordan River leading to an observation point overlooking the ancient bridges.
The amazing variety that is Israel is nowhere better revealed than at Mini Israel. Along its paths, shaped like a Star of David, over 350 intricate, hand-crafted, true-to-life scale models depict the country’s best known sites and monuments.
From Mount Hermon to the Temple Mount, from a Talmudic village to the Tel Aviv beach, from the churches of Galilee to its synagogues, from a bus station to the Bahai Gardens, and many more – each structure tells its own inimical story.
A team of artists bestowed the finishing touches on each model, as well as sculpting the thousands of tiny figures that populate the scenes. And this is no silent spectacle: there are sound effects galore – among them, the commander of the honor guard at the Knesset barks out orders, the crowd cheers at Jerusalem’s Teddy soccer stadium (while the figures execute a perfectly coordinated wave!), the recoded voice of Maestro Isaac Stern conducting a violin master class emanates from the model of historic Mishkenot She’ananim, the first building outside the walled city of Jerusalem.
Ancient Synagogues in the Galilee
When you visit the variety of ancient synagogues in Galilee, you’ll realize that far from being ruins of a long-gone civilization, these beautiful structures symbolize the flowering of Jewish ritual and community life in ways relevant to this very day. You’ll discover how these monuments, dating between the third and the seventh centuries, when most Jews had to move from Jerusalem to Galilee, reflected their builders’ faith and commitment to each other, as well as a fascinating infusion of the surrounding culture.
In the high mountains of Galilee, you’ll find the synagogue of Bar Am, the centerpiece of a forested national park. Its intricately carved façade has survived almost intact since it was built some 1,700 years ago. You’ll discover similar synagogue façades elsewhere in Galilee, and realize that most faced south, toward Jerusalem, an architectural way of demonstrating that though the Holy City was at that time inaccessible, it was never forgotten.
Further south, on a slope overlooking the Sea of Galilee, is Korazim, where the Israel Nature and Parks Authority has restored the massive, black basalt synagogue as well as village homes and courtyards. You’ll see more beautiful carvings attesting to the effort and expense the villagers invested to adorn this, their most important building. You can even sit on the same stone benches the ancient congregation did, facing each other, an arrangement that jives perfectly with the meaning of the Greek word “synagogue” and its Hebrew equivalent, Beit Knesset: house of assembly – and still the practice among Sephardic Jews today. The Korazim synagogue also has a Moses Seat, where the rabbi would sit while delivering his sermon.
The white limestone synagogue of Capernaum, near the Sea of Galilee, is not only testimony to Galilean Jewish life; it is a magnet for Christian visitors because of the frequent mention of this town in the New Testament. Time in Capernaum therefore also becomes an opportunity to consider how Jews and Christians might have coexisted in this region in the Talmudic times when both synagogues and churches were built.
Three Galilee synagogues have magnificent, multicolored mosaic floors: Hamat Tiberias overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Beit Alpha in the Jezreel Valley, and Tzippori in the Galilee Mountains. They all have a Zodiac, a design the Jews borrowed from the surrounding Greco-Roman culture. But you’ll find the familiar astrological logos labeled in Hebrew, along with early Jewish artistic symbols, some of which are still part of Jewish life: the candelabra, lulav, etrog and shofar. At Beit Alpha, the mosaic artists and donors mentioned in the inscriptions come alive in a wonderful audiovisual presentation.
Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, served as the country’s cultural and economic center for centuries. The city has numerous art, archeological and historical museums and the streets and parks of Jerusalem are full of art and sculpture. Scroll down for a list of Jerusalem’s leading museums of Jerusalem.
The Israel Museum
The Israel Museum is the largest cultural institution in Israel and is ranked among the world's leading art and archaeology museums. It houses encyclopedic collections including works dating from prehistory to the present day in its Archaeology, Fine Arts and Jewish Art and Life Wings and features the most extensive holding of Biblical and Holy Land archaeology in the world.
In the summer of 2010 the Museum completed a comprehensive upgrade of its 20-acre campus featuring new galleries, entrance facilities and public spaces. Among the highlights of the Museum's original campus is the Shrine of the Book, which houses the legendary Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest biblical manuscripts in the world. Adjacent is the Model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period, which provides historical context to the Shrine’s presentation of the Scrolls.
The Museum’s celebrated Billy Rose Art Garden is counted among the finest outdoor sculpture settings of the 20th century with works by modern masters including Jacques Lipchitz, Henry Moore, and Pablo Picasso. The Ruth Youth Wing for Art Education presents a wide range of programming and exhibition galleries.
The Bible Lands Museum
The Bible Lands Museum is located near the Israel Museum. Its exhibits include a large collection of archeological artifacts that open a doorway to ancient Mid-Eastern cultures. Using maps, sketches, Biblical quotations and priceless exhibits, the museum illustrates the ties between the various peoples of the region, visitors are led along a time line beginning in Biblical times and ending in our modern era. The museum also has a spacious garden with trees and plants that are mentioned in the Bible.
The Tower of David Museum
At the Tower of David Museum, not only do the captivating exhibits deepen your understanding of Jerusalem, its very stones are part of this city’s living history. Each ancient room has been revamped to showcase a different period, allowing the tempestuous events of 4,000 years to fall perfectly into place in your mind. With each doorway you exit, you look down into the citadel’s central courtyard, where archaeologists have unearthed remains dating from the Maccabees to the Middle Ages. The museum also utilizes its unique space for multi-sensory exhibits by leading designers and artists from Israel and abroad, and for memorable private functions.
A small museum located in the center of the city, Ticho House is a separate branch of the Israel Museum. The house was built in 1868 and purchased in the 1920’s by a Vienna-born ophthalmologist named Avraham Albert Ticho and his wife, Anna. The first floor served as a clinic and the couple resided upstairs. Anna Ticho studied art in Vienna and her work captured the faces, moods and vistas of early 20th-century Jerusalem. In 1980, she was awarded the Israel Prize for her art work. After her death, the house was converted to a museum with a permanent exhibition of her paintings, Hanukkah menorahs from Dr. Ticho's collection, an extensive library, gift shop, and coffeehouse. The house and garden are also used for concerts and receptions.
The Jerusalem Artists' House
This museum, located in a 19th-century stone building, was the original site of the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts. It hosts temporary exhibits of Israeli artists.
Islamic Arts Museum
The Islamic Arts Museum is located near the Jerusalem Theater, and is considered one of the world’s finest museums of Islamic art. The museum displays Islamic art from the 7th century to modern times, with artifacts from Israel, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, India, Afghanistan, Spain and Iran. The permanent and temporary exhibits include rich collections of pottery, glass, and metal work, ritual artifacts, jewelry, paintings, and tapestries. The museum also holds creativity workshops, plays and performances for children during school vacations. Guided tours are available in Hebrew, English and Arabic.
Museum on the Seam
The Museum on the Seam sits atop the barbed-wire frontier that divided Israeli from Jordanian Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967. Formerly known as the Tourgeman House, its bullet holes are witness to former conflict. It became a municipal museum in 2000. The museum presents the events of the past through multimedia, photography, art exhibits and video, placing emphasis on co-existence and tolerance.
The Rockefeller Museum
The Rockefeller Museum, one of the first buildings built outside the walls of the Old City, is a branch of the Israel Museum. Its exhibits are mostly archeology, but visitors also come to admire the beautiful building itself. Originally built in the 17th century as a private home, it was in 1906 that the Jewish National Fund sought to purchase the compound for Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts. In 1919 the administration of the new British Mandate designated the site as an archeological museum.
Tel Aviv Museums
If Jerusalem is Israel’s Washington DC, Tel Aviv is Israel’s New York City. Created as an outgrowth of the ancient port of Jaffa (Yafo), Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 and a dynamic modern city on the Mediterranean shore that is the heart of a metropolitan area of some 3.5 million people. Tel Aviv as a city is art. As a result of immigration to Israel by German Jews in the 1930’s, Germany’s Bauhaus architecture movement found a new identity in Tel Aviv and the city is home to more Bauhaus buildings than any city on earth. So much so that Tel Aviv’s “White City” – as the Bauhaus neighborhoods are known – has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Israel’s capital of business, entertainment and the arts, Tel Aviv has lately developed the persona as a member of the grouping of “cool” cities that includes Barcelona, Istanbul, Melbourne, Miami Beach and Rio de Janeiro. Israel 's leading theater companies, Habimah, Kameri and Gesher, are located in Tel Aviv, as are the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, the New Israeli Opera, the Conservatory, the Frederic Mann Auditorium (home of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) and the Cinemathèque. The city is full of outdoor sculpture and numerous art galleries exhibit works by Israeli artists. Parks and public centers host street shows, and the city has a wide variety of clubs with music for every taste.
However short a Tel Aviv stay, no visitor with an artistic bent should miss the Old City of Jaffa (Yafo) with its picturesque port and artists' colony, Neve Tzedek, the oldest and most colorful neighborhood in Tel Aviv and home of numerous artists, and Gordon Street with its many art galleries.
The Tel Aviv Art Museum
The permanent collection of The Tel Aviv Art Museum - the city’s largest - includes over 20,000 prints and drawings, as well as paintings and sculpture by recent Israel artists, Renaissance European art and works from the Renaissance, impressionist and modern eras. The Helena Rubenstein Pavilion, with its permanent and temporary exhibits, is a remote branch of the museum located in the city center next to the Frederic Mann Auditorium and Habimah theatre.
The Land of Israel (Eretz Israel) Museum
The Land of Israel Museum contains an entire world of visual, cultural, and historical treasures. The museum collections are displayed in different pavilions devoted to glass, ceramics, coins, philately, Judaica, ethnography and folklore. The museum grounds encompass the archeological site of Tel Kasila - a Philistine port city dating back more than 3,000 years, a planetarium simulating space flight, the fire engine donated in 1948 by the City of New York toIsrael’s first fire brigade and a plaza with ancient mosaics and an olive press.
The Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora (Bet Hatefusoth)
Also known as the Museum of the Jewish People, The Diaspora Museum is dedicated to the history of the Jewish people in the Diaspora. Located on the campus of Tel Aviv University, the permanent exhibition includes ethnic artifacts from Jewish communities throughout the world. Jewish life in diverse geographic regions is illustrated by means of drawings, models, video, music, photography, sound and light. A computer center enables visitors to search family roots.
Haifa, is the third largest city in Israel. The city has multiple museums of history, culture, esoterica and art.
The Haifa Art Museum
Located in the German Colony’s Templar town hall dating from 1869, the Haifa Art Museum has both permanent and temporary exhibits of modern Israeli and international art. Emphasis is placed on the unique quality of Haifa as an integrated Jewish-Muslim-Christian-Druze city. The museum also sponsors cultural activities, dance performances, concerts, and lectures.
The National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum relates the history of Israel as a country bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Exhibitions include artifacts and documents about the ports, beaches, the movements of ships to and from Israel, and the history of seafaring. The exhibits express the connection between man and the sea and the history of seafaring people through works of art pertaining to the sea.
The Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art
The Tikotin Museum, located on the summit of Mount Carmel, was created to introduce the Israeli public to Japanese art and culture. The museum, unique in the Middle East, hosts Japanese music concerts, lectures by experts on the Far East, and evenings dedicated to events, ceremonies and festivals of Eastern Asian origin.
The Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa
The Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa was inaugurated in 1984. The Permanent Archaeological Exhibition includes archaeological artifacts representing the material culture of the Landof Israel in ancient times and the Art Wing concentrates on impressionism and the work of Jewish artists of the School of Paris.
Museums Outside the Urban Centers
The Janco Dada Museum
The Janco Dada Museum is named after the artist Marcel Janco, a founding member of the avant-garde Dada movement. The museum is located in the artists' village of Ein Hod near Haifa.
The Ralli Museum in Caesarea is one of four museums in the world founded by art collector, Harry Recanati, whose goal is to support budding contemporary artists. The museum is built in the form of a Spanish villa and exhibits European and Latin American art as well as the works of promising artists.
The Tefen Industrial Garden
Tefen is one of four industrial parks established by industrialist, Stef Wertheimer, in an effort to create a place that links industry with art. The industrial park contains an open museum with temporary exhibitions of the work of Israeli artists, a permanent exhibit depicting the history of German immigration to Israel, a sculpture garden and an exhibit dedicated to the development of Israeli industry.
The Museum of Art Ein Harod
This museum is located at Kibbutz Ein Harod and is the largest museum in the northern Israel. The museum is naturally lit and overlooks the Jezreel Valley and Mount Gilboa. Numerous Israeli artists have exhibited their works here and it possesses a rich collection of Judaica, photographs and graphics.
Israel is small but has hugely varied scenery. Spread out in the South are the arid expanse of the Negev and the Arava, the blazing Dead Sea valley and the mountains of Eilat as they turn red at sunset. To the North, the black basalt rocks adorn the Golan Heights against the snow-capped Mount Hermon and above the green slopes of the Galilee. In the East, the sun breaks over the rocky slopes of the Judean Hills, and to the West lies the peaceful blue of the Mediterranean Sea. Scattered among all of this are geographically varied gems of nature including deserts, mountain cliffs, coastal areas, forests and reservoirs, as well as historical and archeological sites.
Tourists and natives alike enjoy spending time close to nature, but like the rest of the western world, Israel’s valuable natural environment is threatened by industrial development and urban sprawl.
The Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority was created to protect and prevent the extinction of the country’s plants and wildlife; to allow the continuity of various natural habitats; and to promote Israel’s history, archeology and heritage. By preserving and cultivating these sites, the Authority enables the tens of thousands of visitors to enjoy the delightful treasures offered there. The Authority provides a service both to nature and to people by safeguarding the cultural, educational, scientific and economic resources for future generations.
The sites undergo a complex administrative and investigative process prior to acceptance by the Authority, which currently operates 115 national parks and 380 nature reserves. Access to most sites is restricted, requiring an admission fee.
Thanks to the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, visitors in Israel can see eagles nesting on the Golan cliffs; ibex and leopards in the Judean Desert; the large Bell Caves of Beit Govrin; irises in the Poleg reserve; the rare coral peony atop Mount Meron. They can enjoy the impressive diversity of natural wonders, and an encounter with unspoiled nature and with plants and wildlife which are almost extinct and for whom Israel’s nature reserves are their last sanctuary.
The national parks offer an exciting cultural adventure and an opportunity to visit magnificent historical sites, including Massada (Metsada), Caesarea (Keysarya), Beit She’an, and others that a glimpse of a wide range of ancient civilizations. These sites enable visitors to understand how people lived hundreds and thousands of years ago, while getting a close view of the places where events related in the Scriptures and history books occurred.
Almost every restaurant in Israel has menus in English. Occasionally, the spellings or translations can be a bit strange, but these can provide amusement as well as charm. Like for anywhere else in the world, research restaurants on-line or use a good guide-book, and get advice from friends or your hotel front desk about their favorites. And use common-sense when choosing a place to eat, selecting places that look clean and welcoming and where there is a large turnover of diners.
Most restaurants and food stalls are open non-stop from the morning until the evening hours. Restaurants that are also bars remain open until the small hours of the night. In the major cities, especially in Tel Aviv, you can find something to eat at any hour of the day or night.
Reservations are a must at the top restaurants – particularly in Tel Aviv. A great deal for tourists are the Business Lunches at restaurants – particularly the top-rated places – in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. These lunches are special ‘prix fixe’ menus with several choices – at prices a third or half of the same meal in the evening.
Israelis generally eat later than Americans. Lunch is usually sometime between 1 and 3PM. And while the better restaurants are open from 6 or 7 – they don’t usually become crowded until 9PM or later.
It’s the Mediterranean: café life is major in Israel, with sidewalk cafes throughout every city and town. They offer a varied menu of coffees, teas, cakes, sandwiches, pastries and light meals. Israelis often sit in cafés for hours over a cup of coffee. One of the Israeli favorites is “café affuch” (“upside-down coffee”), a combination café cappuccino/café latte. U.S. style coffee bars are more and more common in Israel, with one Israeli chain now with two stores in New York.
Israel has economic ties with almost all nations in the world and manufactures a wide variety of products. There are countless opportunities for shopping in Israel in the shopping centers that have sprung up in the past few decades - including the Malkha Mall, the largest in the Middle East - as well as in the colorful markets, annual bazaars, street malls, and shops in the large cities - all of which offer attractive imported and locally-made items.
Tel Aviv has entire streets with shops devoted to one particular item: spices, bridal gowns, clothing, fabrics, furniture, original gift items, fashion accessories, and galleries. In addition to these special streets such as Dizengoff, Shenkin, Herzl, Nakhlat Binyamin, and Levinsky, there are bi-weekly art fairs on Nakhlat Binyamin in the city center, bazaars with designer clothes and crafts in the exhibition grounds and around the port area, and an annual food fair called “Ta’am ha-Ir" (Taste of the City) where one can sample a variety of foods that are available in restaurants throughout the country.
The Old City is the focus of attraction in Jerusalem with its Oriental and local atmosphere, where one can purchase artifacts, ornaments made of wood, seashells, leather and straw, blown glass, and traditional clothing. The annual art fair, “Khutsot ha-Yotzer” offers both prestigious works of art and folk crafts created by Israeli artists. There are farmers’ markets in the German Colony and in the moshavim surrounding the city. The historical, renovated city center is filled with coffee shops and stores that sell gifts and souvenirs.
Haifa has large, new shopping centers, of which the largest and most unique is “Kastra”, which has the largest mural in the world. Ben Gurion Boulevard, a renovated street below the Bahai Gardens, has stores with Templer style merchandise. The “City Center” mall is located in the heart of the German Colony.
Rural Cottage Industries
Members of moshavim and kibbutzim have recently opened numerous small businesses throughout the country. Signs along the roads advertise these cottage industries, and they are worth investigating. Many offer home-made foods, dairy products and cheeses, arts and crafts, and other unusual items that are not sold in the cities.
Eilat, the tourist and vacation city located at the southernmost point in Israel, not only offers tourist items and souvenirs, but imported electrical appliances and clothing as well.
Purchases in Eilat are significantly less expensive since they are exempt from VAT. There are also tax-free shops in Ben Gurion Airport and at the border crossing point at Taba.
Businesses that operate under government supervision and listed with the Ministry of Tourism display the Ministry of Tourism logo and offer a variety of items such as jewelry and diamonds, carpets, women’s fashions, leather goods, artwork, ceramics, and embroidery.
Sports and physical activities are a part of the increasing variety of leisure activities and pastimes that are becoming popular among Israelis. This thriving leisure culture has led to the evolution of a sports tourism industry that has begun to earn an international reputation.
Israel offers numerous local and international sports events that attract athletes and fans from all over the world. Soccer, basketball, judo, tennis, and skiing are only some of the most predominant and popular sports that attract onlookers and participants of all ages. Sports tourism is open to everyone: amateurs, fans, professional athletes and their trainers and coaches who come for a range of activities from training camps through friendship games to international championship competitions.
Amateur athletes and sportspeople come to enjoy sports activities while relaxing and enjoying their vacation. All have a common desire – to enjoy high quality, healthy sports activities in an atmosphere of pleasure and sportsmanship, and to use their leisure time to become acquainted with parts of Israel that lie outside the sports stadiums and gymnasiums -- the historic tourist sites, nature reserves and urban environments.
The best-known sports sites in Israel include the diving sites in Eilat, the golf courses in Caesarea and Gaash, the Hermon ski slopes, the Nokia Sports Stadium in Tel Aviv, which hosts the best basketball games, the great tennis courts of Ramat HaSharon, the Ramat Gan Stadium, which hosts international soccer matches, and the beaches that have exciting wind surfing and sailing competitions. Organized walks, hikes, and marathon races are held throughout the country, and there are also all-terrain-vehicle competitions and excursions throughout the Negev. Groups of cyclists ride throughout the countryside from the Hermon to Eilat.
The largest mass sports event in Israel is the Maccabiah, which is held every four years. The Maccabiah is a rare opportunity for Jewish athletes from all over the world to come to Israel, tour the country, and participate in competitions. The Maccabiah is a colorful sports event for tourists and sports lovers alike who wish to show their support and love for sports and for Israel.