Best post for the Travelers to Israel

Safed is the highest city in Israel, and many of its inhabitants, both past, and present have reached spiritual peaks as well. Visitors will be immediately enchanted by the magnificent hilltop views and crystal clear mountain air facilitating pristine visibility for miles. This ancient Galilean city is steeped in history and tradition too extensive for the scope of this work, but broad brush strokes should provide you with the big picture.

With a population of just 35,000, Safed holds the significant distinction of being one of the four holy cities in Israel. It has been a spiritual center since the 1600s when famous Jewish rabbis expelled from Europe began to make their way back to the Holy land. These Jewish mystics endowed the city with a furtive mystique that has attracted travelers and believers for centuries and their gravesites are still pilgrimage destinations to this day.

Travelers will enjoy the narrow cobblestone alleyways and colorful artist shops. The artists’ quarter is located in what was once the Arab quarter of Safed.  Artists specializing in a wide range of disciplines reside and work in ancient stone structures that have been converted into modern studios. If you are a collector, you will find an unprecedented collection of artistic wares for sale.

Although Safed is a relatively small city, there is plenty to see, and a traveler with an updated site list should find amazing attractions. Safed’s history dates back for thousands of years, so there is no shortage of historical sites. You can visit the Safed cemetery and see gravesites of some of the most renowned rabbis in Jewish history. If graveyards are not your forte, then you could visit the Citadel, a fortress that dates back to Crusader times.

There are several sites associated with the Ottoman period. You might want to pay a visit to the Red Mosque, a historical mosque which is today used as a wedding hall, or to the Old Turkish Headquarters of Safed. You should also see the ‘Great Stairs’ – a lengthy staircase bisecting Safed and used by the British to separate the Arab and Jewish quarters prior to Israel’s independence in 1948.

Tourists of varying backgrounds search out different types of attractions ranging from the religious to the artistic, and oftentimes a hybrid between the two. You will enjoy a day excursion to this majestic waypoint, and you might even catch one of the numerous festivals held here.

By Brent J. Mitchell

Netanya, Israel’s pristine coastal community, lies just north of Tel Aviv on the Sharon coastal plain. Netanya’s primary tourist attraction would obviously be the superb quality of the beaches. They extend along the entire western border of the city, some 14 kilometers, and this has served as a catalyst for Netanya’s growth as a major tourist destination.

These beaches are unique for a variety of reasons. They are bordered by a rocky escarpment that reaches a height of some 20 meters in places. These cliffs have been enhanced by the development authorities and include a long promenade overlooking the sea.  This promenade constitutes part of the “Israel Road” – a marked walking path that extends the entire length of the country from Kibbutz Dan in the north to Eilat in the south.

What started out as a small agricultural village with 5 settlers back in 1929 has now grown into a thriving city of some 200,000. Netanya was named after an American businessman and philanthropist – Nathan Straus – a co-owner of the renowned Macey’s department store. Ironically, he was chosen by the founding fathers due to his reputation as a generous donor, but when he was approached by them for a donation, he declined, stating that he had no further funds for charity, but the name remained.

Modern-day Netanya has all of the attributes of a contemporary resort city augmented by commerce and light industry.  It has dozens of hotels and guesthouses, romantic cafes, and restaurants offering a complete collection of culinary delights ranging from local, to Asian and continental. Fashion lovers will find all they need in the plentiful shopping centers and boutiques.  Festivals and other events are held in Netanya throughout the year, and this city has evolved into a preferred events venue.

In addition to the enchanting beaches, Netanya has an interesting selection of attractions to offer its visitors.  Tourists can enjoy a unique collection of museums and galleries. The Um Khaled Khan village dates from the Mamluke period, and adjacent to this there is a 1,000-year-old sycamore tree.  You can explore Yemenite ethnicity at the PninatShabtaiMuseum. Netanya has always been synonymous with diamonds so a visit to the DiamondCenterMuseum is a must.  Don’t miss the miniature model of an African diamond mine.   The Well House covers the early history of Netanya and is one of the oldest structures in the city. Don’t miss Netanya on your next tour to Israel.

By Brent J. Mitchell

Mamilla was one of the first “modern” neighborhoods developed outside of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem in the 19th century. After Israel’s independence and until the Six Day War, this area served as the armistice line between Israel and Jordan and extensive damage was done here due to heavy Jordanian shelling. However, the Israeli government eventually approved an urban renewal project for Mamilla, apportioning land for residential and commercial zones, including hotels and office space. The Mamilla Mall opened in 2007.

After the Six-Day War, Jerusalem’s municipal borders were expanded to include the OldCity and beyond. Many buildings in the Mamilla neighborhood were in a horrible state of disrepair from conflict and neglect. Several historic buildings were even condemned by the municipal authorities. One was the Stern House, the famous venue where the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, stayed during is only visit Israel in 1898. However, preservaton activists filed civil suits in Israel’s Supreme Court which served as a catalyst for saving and preserving this historical landmark.

The $150 million Mamilla shopping mall, an open-air promenade constructed with Jerusalem stone, has been billed as a luxury shopping destination in the style of Los Angeles’ Rodeo Drive. There are some 140 retail businesses, including international brand stores and trendy upscale restaurants and cafes. You will also find one of Israel’s most luxurious Hotels, The Mamilla Hotel, which was constructed at this site. It offers the finest in hotel hospitality for discerning travelers.

This promenade is called the “Arlov Mamilla Avenue”, and its wide expanse not only serves as a convenient postern to the OldCity’s Jaffa Gate but has been utilized for art and sculpture exhibitions. Currently, the organizers of “Muse” – Israel’s largest outdoor sculpture exhibition located here, have announced that following its success, they will be extending the exhibition until December 2012 while adding 20 additional sculptures to the current 140.

The Muse exhibition showcases 62 Israeli sculptors who have joined come together producing unique works of art depicting musical instruments and movement. The exhibition represents the cutting edge in Israeli contemporary art.

The works of art on display are for sale to the general public. Each piece of artwork will display a price tag giving the artist’s name and contact information, in both Hebrew and English. If you visit Jerusalem, you should definitely view this free exhibition.

By Brent J. Mitchell

The Ministry of Tourism markets Haifa as a city with “so many possibilities” and this tourist haven in the North really does live up to its marketing slogan. Haifa offers a unique and unparalleled fusion of natural beauty and bustling modern city life, and each neighborhood and quarter reflect its own special charm and characteristics.

The signature attraction in Haifa would undoubtedly be the beautiful BahaiGardens and Shrine. It is built on 19 terraces and includes fountains and a promenade. Visitors can take the free Panorama Tour that descends through the gardens from the summit of Mount Carmel all the way down to the level of the Golden domed shrine of the Bab. Participants are accepted on the spot and in the order of their arrival until the group is full. The tour entrance is located at 45 Yefe Nof Street.

Another major attraction for visitors to Haifa has located just below the BahaiGardens: the German Colony. Haifa’s German Colony was established in 1869 by the Templar Society. These settlers, not to be confused with the Knights Templar, were devout Christians who immigrated to Israel to hasten the coming of the Messiah. Today, the German Colony is a bustling boulevard filled with trendy restaurants and cafes. It is the center of the nightlife scene in Haifa and well worth a visit.

Besides a number of cultural centers and unique museums, Haifa is also home to several holy sites which are dear to the three monotheistic religions. Elijah’s cave is the focal point of  Elijah the prophet’s activities has been converted into a holy site for pilgrims from the Abrahamic faiths. Travelers can also see the Burial site of Rabbi Abdimi Daman, a second-century Torah sage, or make a tour of the Stella Maris Church and Monastery.

For travelers who wish to use Haifa as a base for regional excursions, there are numerous options available. Travelers oftentimes enjoy a visit to the Dalit El Carmel, a Druse village which is also home to the Muchraka Carmelite Monastery and the Oliphant House. Patrons of the arts will be drawn to the EinHodArtisitsVillage located in the heart of Mount Carmel. History lovers might want to check out the Atlit Illegal Immigration that was operational during the British Mandate period.

There is no shortage of interesting attractions for those spending time in the Haifa area.

By Brent J. Mitchell

December is a holiday month for those who follow the Judeo-Christian tradition. This cross-cultural holiday season is particularly auspicious in Israel since Chanukah and Christmas take on special significance when celebrated in the Holy Land. December is one of the best months of the year for Israel travel since the climate is mild and entertainment attractions abound.

Chanukah is a holiday that celebrates survival and commemorates two miracles – a military victory and the miracle of the oil when the Temple was rededicated, and the Hebrew word Chanukah actually means “dedication” in English. Chanukah falls on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar and lasts for 8 days until the 2nd of Tevet. This date varies in the Gregorian calendar but it usually coincides with the Christmas holiday.

Christmas is basically a birthday celebration for the primary persona eminent in the Christian tradition – Jesus. However, these two holidays share many similarities in terms of how they are celebrated. Firstly, Children play a central role in the December holiday celebrations. This could occur for various reasons, but from a practical standpoint, the children are on vacation and must be entertained, and this is one of the major reasons. Additionally, the educational element of these holidays is intended for children.

In the US and Diaspora, Jewish children receive Chanukah gifts for the eight-day celebration just as gentile children receive gifts at Christmas. However, in Israel, there is no tradition of gift giving. If any gifts are given, they usually consist of sweets and small sums of money or gelt. Dreidels (sevivonim) are also given everywhere, but the celebration of Chanukah in Israel is especially significant because “Nes Gadol Haya Po” (a great miracle happened here), and this difference is reflected in the four letters inscribed on the Dreidel. In the Diaspora, the dreidels are inscribed with the four letters signifying “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” (a great miracle happened there).

If you’re in Israel during Chanukah, you might want to visit the archeological site of Bet Guvrin. Jerusalem and the Modiin area are also significant since this is where the story of Chanukah took place and where the Maccabean graves are located.

Meanwhile, Christmas in Israel is an unprecedented experience for believers. In the town of Bethlehem, magnificent services take place on Christmas Eve – especially the renowned midnight mass.

By Brent J. Mitchell

If you are looking for a unique, wintertime, spa experience in a majestic location, then look no further than the Hamat Gader Resort – Israel’s largest and oldest spa complex. This site is located adjacent to Tiberius, not far from the southeastern shores of the Sea of Galilee. You will also be amazed by the renowned park that forms a major part of the complex.

The HamatGaderPark encompasses an area of over 40 acres and boasts a modern park infrastructure that includes covered walkways and nature observation sites, restaurants, lawns, ancient Roman Baths and the thermo-mineral pool area. Furthermore, Hamat Gader maintains one of the largest crocodile farms in the Middle East with approximately 200 crocodiles of various species.

This enchanting vacation spot has a rich history that began with the Greeks. They built the city of Gadara overlooking the sea of Galilee, and the hot springs of Gader – and Hamat Gader came into existence. The Romans moved in after this.

In the Roman period, the hot springs were visited for their therapeutic qualities, and the second-largest bath complex in the entire Roman Empire was built at Hamat Gader. Famous visitors frequented the baths in ancient times and included famous rabbinical figures, prominent Greek philosophers, and even Jesus and his disciples.

The central bath complex is one of the signature attractions here.The thermo-mineral water baths include spacious pools filled with water containing potent medicinal and curative properties, Jacuzzi, beds and chairs, water jets that relieve neck, shoulder and back tension, a luxurious bubble pool, and a hot water waterfall.

The thermo-mineral water includes two primary qualities: heat and a mineral-rich composition. The water flows at a steady temperature of 42 C, and it contains sulfur as well as other important minerals. Some claim that bathing in these waters accelerates metabolism, cell renewal and contributes to the relief of joint pains. Due to the large capacity of the hot springs, the water circulates every four hours, ensuring that it remains clean and fresh.

Hamat Gader offers a full range of water treatments and massages of various kinds. The Spa Village Hotel is a boutique complex comprising 29 luxurious suites situated around the center of the spa. This spa complex would be an excellent choice for all those looking for a winter vacation filled with warmth.

By Brent J. Mitchell

Mount Hermon is not just a single peak, but rather a cluster of mountains forming an irregular plateau with three separate summits, each of which is roughly at the same elevation. The main attractions here are the ski resort, Neve Ativ, and the Nimrod Fortress. Although many perceive MountHerman to be a winter vacation spot since it is the only place in Israel with sufficient snowfall accumulation for skiing or snowboarding, it also has a lot to offer in the summertime as well.

The winter season draws skiers, sledders, and snowboarders. However, there are many visitors who love the snow and the seasonal atmosphere and visit just to observe and experience the extreme climate and fabulous views. The Hermon Ski Resort is open year round, and it encompasses an area of about 5,000 acres, at 1600 to 2040 meters above sea level. The chair lifts or cable cars operate year round.

During the lengthy summer season with ideal weather conditions typically found in high mountain ranges, you will discover a wide variety of activities available to travelers. You can ride the cable car to visit the HaMa’apil summit. Here you can take a guided seasonal tour and discover the flora and fauna indigenous to this region. If you are interested in military history tours, you can learn about the battle on Mount Hermon. If you like speed and action, and extreme sports, then you can ride on the steep mountain sides.

Nature lovers can venture outside of the ski areas and pay a visit to the Hermon Nature Reserve located in the occupied section of the Golan Heights. It was officially declared a nature reserve on December 6, 1974. The reserves’ total area is about 19,000 acres. Summer travelers can enjoy the late blooming season in August. Summer visitors can enter free of charge, and enjoy guided tours lead by the Nature Reserves Authority.

In terms of capacity, Mount Hermon can accommodate about 12,000 visitors per day. In the winter season, the Hermon resort receives an estimated 300,000 visitors and during the summer months about 40,000 people.

Although Mount Hermon is steeped in a rich historical tradition, today the site and its surroundings are primarily the focus of tourism and recreation. This amazing site provides visitors with a variety of options to spend and enjoy a memorable vacation. Feel free to contact Mazada Tours for further information.

 

By Brent J. Mitchell

Established during the Roman presence in Palestine in 20 CE, and named after the Roman Emperor, Tiberius is a major hub of tourist activity in Northern Israel. Etched into the hilly topography of the western shores of the Sea of Galilee or Kinneret, some 200 meters below sea level, this small city has evolved into a burgeoning urban area with a population of some 40,000 residents, most of which are Jewish.

Tiberius has been blessed with a rich history, and has been revered in Jewish and Christian circles since the second century, however, even a brief historical overview would fall way beyond the scope of this article. For thousands of years, one of the primary draws of this quaint little town is the hot springs. Tiberius actually owes its origins to this sequence of hot springs since it lured pleasure seekers during Roman times.

Just south of the OldCity is the HamatTiberiusNational Park which boasts 17 different hot springs. These therapeutic waters are known to be infused with approximately 100 different kinds of indigenous minerals. The waters from the springs also feed the baths at the renowned Tiberius Springs Spa – an ideal vacation spot where visitors can delight in a large variety of spa treatments while enjoying fantastic views of the lake.

Tiberius has always been associated with leisure and pleasure, and visitors can partake in a wide variety of activities that combine multifarious elements that include outdoor activities, especially water sports, along with contemporary attractions, as well as visits to historical, archeological and pilgrimage sites.

The city has 30 hotels including luxury suites and unique boutique hotels. There are also a number of bed and breakfast options as well as youth hostels for the budget traveler. Most hotels are located on the beach and offer vacationers a real treat. Visitors will enjoy manicured lawns, a promenade and a large selection of bars and eateries.

Jewish and Christian religionists will also find a plethora of activities in Tiberius. Just south of the city, Christians will find Yardenit, the place where Jesus was baptized. On the opposite side of the lake is the Mount of Beatitudes. Alongside the Christian holy sites, visitors can explore the burial sites of Jewish sages, making it one of Israel’s holy cities. Pilgrims pay homage to some of the great sages at the tombs of Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Yochanan Ben-Zakai, Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess, as well as Maimonides.

By Brent J. Mitchell

On Saturday, 26 January, 2013, we will be celebrating the Tu B’shvat holiday in Israel and in the Diaspora. Tu B’shvat, or the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, is a unique holiday that is sourced in the Oral Tradition and is not specifically mentioned in the Bible. It is also known as the New Year for Trees.

The Jewish People love a New Year celebration so much that they have established four different dates as “new years” in the Jewish calendar. The discussion of when the New Year occurs was a source of debate among the rabbis, but most believers consider Rosh Hashana to be the primary New Year celebration.

Tu B’shevat was always considered to be a lesser holiday in the Diaspora. After the destruction of the temple this holiday lost all its agricultural and administrative relevance and it developed into a minor holiday. The symbolic consumption of fruit was meant to affirm the Diaspora’s allegiance, to the land of Israel, and some insisted on consuming the seven indigenous species mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8.

However, in the Middle Ages, the Kabbalists, and in particular those residing in Zafed, in the Holy Land, expounded on a deeper meaning of Tu B’Shvat. They introduced a custom of having a festive dinner where the simple act of eating fruit served as restitution for the original sin or as a cosmic repair or Tikkun in Hebrew, for the consumption of the forbidden fruit by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Tu B’shvat gained even greater significance after Israel’s independence. Agrarian values were promoted and this holiday evolved once again. The concept of an agricultural holiday with strong associations to the land appealed to the secular Zionists and the holiday was adopted and celebrated, mainly by school children and the kibbutz movement. The tradition of tree planting was established and the holiday is celebrated in secular circles. This tree planting tradition continues to this day, and if you are in Israel, you might want to take the opportunity to contact the JNF, and arrange to plant a tree in one of the national forests.

Ironically, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament was first convened on February 14, 1949, which was Tu B’shvat, and this week Israelis have gone to the polls to elect the members of the 19th Knesset just five days before the holiday.

By Brent J. Mitchell

As the Carmel Mountains arise from the coastal plain, just 35 kilometers south of Haifa, you will find the picturesque little town, or ‘Moshava ‘ known as Zichron Ya’akov. This quaint little, hillside village was founded in 1882 by the Baron de Rothschild who named it in honor of his father who was called Ya’akov. Today, the town’s name has been abbreviated to just “Zichron”, and the population has grown from just a few hundred to some 20,000.

Tourists in search of an off-beat destination, replete with unique sights and activities, are attracted to this town’s charming layout and ambiance. Major restoration projects have created a compelling historic city center whose renovated main street serves as a promenade known as the ‘Path of the Wine’, where visitors can enjoy a vast array of bars, restaurants, and cafes interspersed with small shops selling handcrafted  jewelry, antiques, and gifts. This pedestrian mall is the main draw for this destination.

In 1885, Rothschild helped to establish the first winery in Israel, and the original Carmel-Mizrahi Winery continues to make wine in Zichron Ya’akov. It has a recently reconstructed sightseers’ center with free guided tours, and visitors can tour the factory, taste the numerous varietals and enjoy a gourmet repast at the adjoining cafe. Several other wineries, from the large to the two-grape variety, are available for visits and tastings as well.

Beside the culinary and shopping delights, tourists will also enjoy an interesting selection of museums and historical landmark sites. This rich history is poignantly rendered in beautiful detail at the town’s FirstAliyahMuseum, located on HaNadiv Street. Other interesting landmarks include the old synagogue and the administration building, as well as an old courtyard with a display of antique agricultural implements.

The most intriguing museum in Zichron would undoubtedly be the Aharonson residence. This museum tells the heroic story of Nili, the first underground Jewish resistance group that operated in Palestine during WWI. They spied on Ottoman positions and reported their findings to British agents offshore. Eventually, the Ottomans caught one of the group’s carrier pigeons and cracked the Nili code. The NiliMuseum recreates the history of this period and relates this stunning story filled with suspense, tragedy, and dramatic twists.

All this and more make Zichron a vibrant and colorful destination offering a taste of history coupled with the exclusive culinary pleasures featuring fine wines.

By Brent J. Mitchell