Israel—a land of mystery, holy essence, political intrigue, conflicting cultures and mass chaos, amongst absolute serenity. It is a land of contrasts, and a land of one-ness. With everything. Being in Jerusalem changes you, and everything feels profound—and it is—no matter what your religious spectrum of beliefs happens to be. You can just feel the profundity and magic in the air.
Logistically, getting there is hard. Staying there is expensive. It is old, it is the Middle East, and no one cares about your Marriotts or your In and Out Burger addiction, despite it being painted as “just like Europe “ (which it isn’t). We flew through Frankfurt, and in FRA Tel Aviv has its own permanent gate with extra security, so getting in and out is hard. Once you’re in, you’re in. As tourists you can move in and between Palestine and Israel, but your about next Jordan, Syria, Golan Heights, Lebanon—everywhere you turn there’s a (hostile) border and you have probably just done twenty crossings you didn’t even realize, forbidden to local citizens.
Israelis are from everywhere—all you need is one Jewish grandparent to qualify for citizenship. But no matter where they are from, they are ardently—Israeli. Proud of their holy land, and proud of the amazing technological hub their country has become over a mere seven decades of existence.
Everyone knows that the country is holy. Most may not know that if it is full of the most amazing food and hummus and falafel you will ever find. Another thing that most don’t realize is that the wine is spectacular, and there is also a huge host of “foreign influences” from the many Former Soviet Jewish folk (about a third the population—Russian is a national language) and from even corners of the world like Ethiopia—leading to amazing Ethiopian, Georgian, Armenian foods as well. And the physical beauty of the country is also amazing. Nature like one has never seen nature before, in a tiny, hotly contested, strip of land about the size of New Jersey.
We traveled with my four year old son, and it is extremely family friendly. People not only tolerate children, they love children, and they are welcome everywhere. Considering the short distances, tours take a very long time, but again lots of crossings to avoid border crossings and security issues that add on to the time. This is maybe and ironically the safest place on earth, with weapons and military pervasive and strict control over everything.
We stayed in Jerusalem the entire week, and did four major tour excursions: The Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee, Bethlehem, and Haifa and the North, so we got to see a little bit of everything. Floating in the Dead Sea was a little scary, waving hi to Jordan, trying not to fall, with a scared toddler floating on the water, but it was also amazing. Dining on St Peter’s fish in the Sea of Galilee and drinking the local amazing wines, while getting baptized in the River Jordan—just a typical Tuesday. Seeing where Jesus was born—the site being split between the original Orthodox church and a much later Catholic church—right in the middle of Palestine—and seeing the amazing Roman Ruins, vast history, and amazing cliffs up at the Lebanese border. This is a thriving country proud to show off its beauty to anyone who will open their minds to it. We used Guy Tours, which was perhaps overly organized, but organized there is good and what you need, especially to be safe with a child in tow.
I will stop here because I could go on for hours and hours, but suffice it to say: venturing into Israel will forever change you, and the holy land will always awe you.
The above is written and experienced by my friend, Jenee A. She is an avid traveler, professionally and for leisure.
Thanks for reading. XOXO