1. Tel Aviv
A metropolitan city, Tel Aviv is rich in education, culture, diversity, and access. What a great, fun city. Modern and continuing to gain popularity. A lot of smart, successful companies, especially in tech, are emerging from this area. And of course the warmth and friendliness of Israeli people. Also a good place to enjoy some nightlife. A few places to visit include Ben Gurion House, Rabin Square, Joseph Bau Museum, and Jaffa.
The rich history of Jerusalem spans time and is the ultimate mecca. It’s really interesting how the Old City is divided into quarters: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Armenian. Of course there is the Western (“Wailing”) Wall where people go to pray and to write notes that are placed in cracks of the wall. Be mindful and respectful when at this holy place (see story below). Other points of interest in Jerusalem beyond the Old City is Mount Zion, Mount Herzel (cemetery), Yad Vashem (incredible Holocaust memorial), and Ben Yehuda Street (main drag, shops, nightlife).
3. Mount Masada & The Dead Sea
The best way to see the ancient historical fortress of Mount Masada is at sunrise. The views are incredible, the sky is one fire, and you can literally shout into the abyss to hear echos that travel for miles. You can also see the Dead Sea. There are two paths up and down the mountain. Apparently there’s a funicular so you don’t have to trek up, but our guide didn’t mention that. I would definitely recommend walking though, it’s not that far or tough. Wonderful site. Nearby is the Dead Sea, which is quite remarkable. You really do float with no effort due to the high concentration of salt in the water. Cover yourself in the famous mud used for beauty products exported around the world. Don’t shave, and avoid cuts at least a day before entering the Dead Sea, otherwise it will burn (as the saying salt in the wound)! And on the way to the Dead Sea, there is a nice spring with falls you can swim in, Ein Gedi.
There’s something magical about this place. Steeped in the Kabbalah’s Jewish mysticism, there is a calmness, a beauty, and plenty of art in this small town in the mountains. We visited an art gallery where the artist shared his story about how be became an artist. Probably the best part of the story was how he was actually from Detroit and then moved to Tzfat to create and sell artwork. He also seemed to smoke a lot of weed. I remember the best tasting fresh pomegranate juice I’ve ever had in Tzfat, still to this day, along with a some sort of egg pancake/crepe thing we had on the street.
Didn’t spend much time here, but a populated, pretty city. One of the largest in Israel and located north along the Mediterranean Sea.
To this day, I can clearly recall this unique experience visiting and spending a night out in the desert in a bedouin village. I remember my first introduction into tea, some great Israeli food, music, meditation at night in the desert, and camel rides. There was also a story about when a stranger comes upon the home of a bedouin. The number of cups of tea he's offered has a specific meaning (hopefully I remember it correctly). One cup means you are invited to stay the night, two cups means you are protected from intruders, and three cups means you are a potential suitor to marry his daughter.
Stayed on a kibbutz in these misty mountains. Fresh food, kind people, and community. One of my favorite memories is partying at a bar below ground in a bunker.
- Safety. A lot of people assume because of the news that Israel is a very unsafe place to visit, but that's misleading. While there are certainly dangers and you should absolutely take certain precautions, it's really the West Bank and Gaza Strip at the border that's most problematic. The rest of the country from what I remember seemed calm. Of course things change over the course of days, weeks, months, especially in the Middle East, so I would suggest doing your research before and just before a trip to Israel, but don't automatically get scared off from visiting at all.
- Food. Not what you might think of typical Jewish cooking, at least in America. It's a combination and influence of many different types of cuisines from the Mediterranean to the Middle East to North Africa all blended together over generations. I don't remember specifics, but I do remember the lamb Shawarma was amazing.
- The Sabbath. Be aware most things are closed every week from Friday evening through Saturday for the sabbath.