The year 2018 marked the 70th anniversary of Israel’s rebirth as a nation in 1948. 2017, marked the 50th anniversary of the 7-Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967.
Although most Americans might view Israel as a study in fairly recent history and may be conflicted by current politics, it is only through visiting this nation, literally at the crossroads of three continents—Asia, Europe and Africa—that one can fully appreciate the rich culture of Israel, the strength and diversity of its people and the depth of its collective soul. It is vital to understand its layers of history, including its strife and geographical importance for 3,500 years, to fully comprehend the viewpoint of the Israeli people themselves.
A great guide who comprehends that history and can provide a variety of perspectives is paramount to contemplating all that Israel is, was, and is likely to become for future generations. The ability to connect with a variety of locals across this small country filled with fascinating and varied terrain will provide the most complete experience and valuable insight for the visitor.
Starting with Jerusalem, expect to immerse yourself in history in the spiritual center of three of the world’s most important religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, where people live in relative harmony 95% of the time. Explore the Old City and reconnect to your own spirituality regardless of your beliefs. It is truly humbling to witness the Christian pilgrimages to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, to stroll through the souks, and to visit the Western Wall.
An absolute not-to-be-missed experience is the 45-minute state-of-the-art sound and light show on the walls of the Israel Museum in the City of David that brings to life the history of the city with a spectacular laser technology.
Just a couple of hours south of Jerusalem, and worthy of an interesting day trip, is Masada, King Herod’s amazing fortress built high on the desert bluffs in the desolate country by a man of questionable sanity at the time of its construction. Close by Masada you can see the Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, another vision into the complex and difficult recent history and a glimpse into deep spirituality at the origins of the Jewish and Christian religions.
Another stop on the day trip from Jerusalem is the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, where one can enjoy a float in the salt- and mineral-rich waters, after a slathering of therapeutic mud over the entire body.
Those who desire some more time in the desert can opt to stay in the small town of Mitzpe Ramon, where at least one five-star luxury accommodation welcomes adventure junkies who might enjoy desert hikes, rappelling, stargazing and visits to the Bedouin encampments.
Also a short trip from Jerusalem, one can make a half-day visit to the town of Bethlehem, to learn more about the place of Jesus’s birth.
In the northern part of Israel, a 2- to 3-hour drive from Jerusalem are Galilee and Nazareth, other important stops in the journey to retrace Christianity’s history, and to visit important Biblical places. In this relatively green part of Israel, one can visit a kibbutz, enjoy wine country, and venture to the Golan Heights, an important part of the 7 Day War and an important present-day outpost of Israeli military strength and presence.
A must-do stop in Israel is Tel Aviv, a cosmopolitan city with a proud heritage that boasts a mix of modern and crumbling innovations in technology and medicine, high-rise hotels, public markets and fabulous shopping boutiques, as well as ancient and archeologically important sites. To be sure, the best accommodations do not exist as the well-known Western chain high-rise hotels, but rather the smaller boutique and Israeli-branded properties.
This bustling city of restaurants and bars shuts down just hours before Friday Sabbath and re-invigorates as Sunday approaches.
A guided tour of the old port city Jaffa (a neighborhood of Tel Aviv) and Nes Tsdeke, an eclectic neighborhood of multimillion-dollar condos and homes, is a fascinating way to connect the old and present-day Tel Aviv.
Israel’s proud heritage shines throughout this small complex nation. It offers a variety of experiences from cultural to spiritual, historical and adventure perspectives. It’s advisable to conduct this exploration through an informed and experienced operator who can help navigate the many options, explain the nuances, ensure a safe journey and create a truly unforgettable experience.
Instead of embarking upon a journey where time can be forgotten, this exploration beckons those who wish to honor and remember time throughout the ages.