Israel has long been a destination at the top of my bucket list, and I recently returned from there deluged with the knowledge of a very foreign culture and its history. A trip to Israel is history brought to life, a living museum. Personally, it’s the culture, daily lives, and rituals of the people that fascinate me.
Israel is such a small country containing a conflux of numerous religions. The main 3 are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The feeling for me while there is how extreme religion is. By this I mean religion is life! Everywhere you look there are synagogues, temples, mosques, public prayer areas, prayer rugs, prayer shawls, and leather straps called Tefillin. Various types of headcover can be seen all around–Kippa or yarmulke (skullcap), Kufis (Muslim), and Yeshivish (orthodox).
Shabbat (Jewish sabbath) is still strongly observed starting Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, and large family gatherings can be noted. The day we visited the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem was a Thursday, a big day for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs–a big day of celebration, families dressed up taking pictures, playing drums, forming parades through the narrow streets. In my observation of Israel, there is such a commitment and devotion to belief and rituals.
Tel Aviv felt like a European city, upscale shopping, outdoor coffee shops, markets, kiteboarders on the beach, and BBQ picnics on the waterfront. The city is lively and felt perfectly safe. Our guide taught us the hora and we danced in the city square of old Jaffa.
The geography of Israel is so diverse, everything from desert, craggy rocks and caves, to green rolling hills with tall pine trees. We drove route 90 from the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem along the Jordan River where Bedouins and shepherds still reside on the hillsides.
We visited the Holocaust History museum in Jerusalem. Although a sad place to visit, I enjoyed being able to experience this while in the country. The highlight of this museum is a memorial to the children who died: separate building where you enter the darkness holding onto a handrail and walking slowly into a starry night sky. The dark auditorium is lit only by 5 candles that are reflected in many mirrors. It’s a quiet darkness with thousands of twinkling lights–yes, I got a little choked up.
I highly recommend a trip to the Holy Land. We know that security issues are prevalent now around the globe, but I never felt unsafe. Our guides lived in Israel and were knowledgeable of areas that were unsafe. We were always encouraged to get out and walk around our hotel neighborhoods, which we did.
This trip, a small group of 15, was a travel agent “fam” trip to familiarize us with Israeli tours. Thank you to our main guide, Joel Rosenfeld of Isram Tours. He made this an over-the-top experience.