Ever since my High School best friend visited from Israel, back in January, I’ve been thinking about what we’ll do when I finally get to Israel. I think the biggest result of my almost two years of online Hebrew classes from Tel Aviv, and watching so many Israeli TV shows to practice my Hebrew, is that I’m much more interested in visiting smaller neighborhoods and meeting the people than I am in going to the traditional tourist sites. For example, I really don’t want to get up early in the morning to hike Masada, or even take a cable car to the top to watch the sunrise, because I’ve seen more than enough pictures of the view, and because I’m not sure I want to celebrate a place where so many Jews felt like their only option was to commit suicide in order to avoid being captured.
I’m reluctant to go to the Dead Sea (Yam HaMelach in Hebrew), because… bathing suits, and because I usually have one wound or another and the salt stings. But I wouldn’t mind going further south, to Eilat, because there’s supposed to be a spectacular underwater preserve, where you can snorkel or go on a glass bottom boat ride to see fish and coral, and then you can go to the Dolphin Reef to swim with dolphins. But again, bathing suits, or a wet suit, which is just as bad.
Of course, I’ll need to go to Jerusalem for a few days, just to see if I fall under its spell. I’m kind of hoping I will, because it sounds like an incredible high the way people describe it, though I don’t want to get the official version of Jerusalem Syndrome, which includes psychotic breaks and believing you are Moses or Jesus or someone like that. More likely than not, I’ll get to the Wailing Wall, look around, realize I’ve seen it all in pictures and videos already, and then spend the rest of my time at the Mahane Yehuda Market.
Time of year will make a huge difference in what kind of trip I can take, because if I have to go in the summer I will not be able to spend much time outdoors. I’ll just go from one taxi/bus/train to another, and one hostel to another, carrying buckets of ice to toss over my head in case of emergencies.
I found an Israeli tour guide on YouTube, named Oren, who does tons of videos: on how to plan trips to Israel in general; and how to manage public transportation, and how to navigate the weather, and the people, and the supermarkets, etc. He’s an opinionated guy, and I don’t always agree with his point of view on politics, but he’s knowledgeable and detailed, and funny, and he really loves Israel.
Some things I’ve learned from Oren: they don’t stamp passports in Israel, because then it would be difficult for people to travel on to Arab countries, so instead you get a paper called an Electronic Gate Pass that you have to keep track of; the New Israeli Shekel, Known as NIS or “Shach,” equals about thirty to thirty five American cents; you need an adapter for any American electronics (hair dryer, electric toothbrush, etc,); you will need an Israeli provider’s sim card for your cellphone in order to have Wi-Fi, outside of a hotel/hostel that provides it for you; March and April are the best time to go to Israel, but any time after October is okay, because the winters are mild; The preflight security interview at El Al can be intimidating and annoying, but you’ll survive; buy traveler’s insurance; keep the Jewish holidays in mind when planning your trip, because there’s no public transport on Shabbat and holidays in most of the country, and flights into the country are more expensive leading up to the big holidays; only go to the Negev in the winter, otherwise you will burn to a crisp; you need a guide of some kind in order to visit the old city of Jerusalem, but there are group tours, apps, and guide books if private tours are too expensive, and keep in mind that Jewish and Christian tours are very different; in an emergency dial 101; don’t be surprised to find yourself standing next to an Israeli soldier carrying an Uzi.
Recently, I’ve been getting really interested in seeing the north of Israel, because I know so much less about it, and because it is not as hot as the south, but Oren has fewer videos about the north, so far, so I had to go to Wikipedia and other sites for information.
Haifa is the big city in the north of Israel, and there’s an Israeli saying that goes, “Haifa works, Jerusalem prays, and Tel Aviv plays,” which doesn’t make it sound very exciting, but it has the only underground rapid transit system in Israel, called the Carmelit (Tel Aviv is in the process of building its own). And it’s also one of Israel’s mixed cities, with a significant population of Arabs and Jews living in the same place, with Arab Christians, Arab Muslims, Druze and Bahai communities, plus a lot of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and even an ultra-orthodox minority. So it seems like it’s worth a visit, and it could be a good jumping off point for visiting other parts of the North. Haifa is also one of the few cities in Israel where buses operate on Shabbat.
I want to see Tsfat (Safed), which is known for art and mysticism; and Akko (Acre), which is an ancient city with remnants from the Hellenistic-Roman period, and the Crusader period, and the Ottoman period; and then there’s Tiberius, which was founded in 20 CE by Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, and became a hub for Jews after the destruction of the second temple (and where the Jerusalem Talmud was put together); and there’s Mount Hermon, bordering Lebanon, which is the one place in Israel that gets enough snow for skiing in the winter (but since I don’t ski I’m not sure why I’d go there, except to cool off); and then there are a lot of Kibbutzim and Moshavim to visit, with fruits and vegetables and cheeses and mushrooms galore.
But it’s all still up in the air, especially when it’s so much easier to watch videos of all of these places on TV. And I’m still dragging my feet about getting my passport renewed, though, partly because of my reluctance to have my picture taken, and partly because it’s one more appointment I’ll have to make and organize and get to. And the thing is, I don’t really want to go to Israel alone, or plan a whole trip by myself, and I can’t expect my friend to abandon her family for weeks at a time just to keep me entertained. My synagogue is planning an Israel trip next year, in the spring I think, but it’s bound to be expensive and involve a lot of walking, and visiting places I don’t particularly want to go, and it would require me to make up my mind far in advance, which I seem incapable of doing. So, in the meantime, I’m watching Israeli movies and TV shows: on my Kan 11 app, or the Izzy streaming channel, or just on YouTube. At the very least, by the time I get to Israel I’ll know the best places to go for Chummus.
Some of Oren’s Israel videos:
The 10 Most ISRAELI Things You Don't See On the News (14:33) https://youtu.be/q4lmXwqGDHg
The Israeli Supermarket (11:54) https://youtu.be/OFUximyJ3rI
Running the Dead Sea Marathon (10:14) https://youtu.be/THKJDJQUww4
If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.
Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?