A country just slightly largely than the state of New Jersey, Israel offers more than one can imagine. Beaches, hiking, breathtaking waterfalls, art, unique agriculture, exquisite food, shopping, a diverse culture, and the center for three of the world’s largest religions are only parts of what define Israel. To attempt to describe the country in a few paragraphs does not do justice to its richness, but here’s a small taste:
Tel-Aviv, the second most populous city in the country located on the Mediterranean coast, is the country’s economic hub, and has been recognized among the world’s top 10 party towns. When I’m visiting Tel-Aviv, I’m never short of what to do. I start my day with my favorite coffee from Café Aroma and make sure to spend time at the beach, either with friends or making new ones. Speaking to a random stranger in Israel is considered normal; I feel as if I have friends and family surrounding me at all times.
Approximately a one-hour drive away is Jerusalem, which is considered by many to be the holiest place on earth. One can spend a lifetime exploring the thousands of years of history of the city. According to the Bible, Jerusalem is the place where Abraham sacrificed Isaac. Jews and peoples of other religions flock to the Old City in Jerusalem to pray at the Western Wall – the last remnant of the Jewish Second Temple destroyed in 70 CE. The Dome of the Rock – built upon the Jewish Temple Mount – is a sacred place of worship in Islam. Also, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been one of the most important places of pilgrimage for Christians.
The spirituality that permeates Jerusalem is intoxicating. When I walk down the narrow, windy roads of the Old City, I think of my great grandparents all the way back to my ancestors in the Bible walking upon the same ground and same stones, and realize I’m living history. Upon arriving at the Western Wall, I take a deep breath, and just look in front of me; feelings of calm, peace, and oneness overtake me. This is the place where my ancestors have prayed and cried for thousands of years, I think. This is the place where the presence of G-D is more accessible. This is home. Sometimes I cry when I approach the Wall, and other times, I just feel fortunate and happy to be in its presence.
In the South of Israel lay the resort city Eilat, boasting beautiful beaches and archeological sites. A close drive from Eilat is the lowest spot on earth – the Dead Sea. The body of water, located on the edge of the Judean desert, contains the highest concentration of salt in the world. The Sea is also known for its therapeutic benefits, including pain relief. During my first visit to the Dead Sea when I was about 12 years old on a group trip I was taken aback; I realized I was actually floating on water! That same day we hiked in Ein Geidi, an oasis in Israel. When we arrived at a waterfall, we all jumped in, and I simply didn’t want to leave.
Travel about five hours north to reach the ancient city of Safed – the highest city in Israel. I had family living in Safed dating back hundreds of years, and each time I arrive in the city, I feel my heart almost skip a beat. Safed was and continues to be the center of Jewish mysticism and was home to many of the greatest Kabbalists in history, including Rabbi Issac Luria, also known as the “Ari.” In Safed I don’t feel the need to search for activities to do – I can simply walk around, get lost among the narrow roads, and just be. Watching some of the most breathtaking sunsets in Safed, I literally felt as if heaven was kissing earth.
Israel, aside from its unique tourist attractions, and historical, cultural, and religious significance, is also a hub for high-tech businesses, cutting-edge technology, health research, start-ups, and the list goes on. I feel fortunate to have been able to visit and travel around Israel on many different occasions and on a variety of organized group trips. Thankfully, there are many different types of trips available to Israel for people of all backgrounds and ages. Taste it for yourself.