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Ahava (Love) Sculpture – Israel Museum Art Garden – Jerusalem

View to the Dead Sea from Arad Sculpture Park - Arad

Palm Garden – Rothchild Memorial Gardens (Ramat Hanadiv) – Zichron Yacov

Carmel Market – Tel Aviv


John and Terri Lee Farber, posted June 23, 2011

There are many ways to support Israel. For us, the best way is to visit there and encourage others to do likewise. 

In our opinion, you can see but never truly experience Israel from a tour bus. Like many people, we have done “the mission” tour and still suggest it, especially for first time tourists and those with specific interests. But, to experience Israel, you must walk the streets, meet the people, and deal directly with the challenges of everyday life (driving, parking, shopping, laundry, holidays, security, etc.). 

We just returned from our seventh trip and third extended visit, this time for nearly 7 weeks. Our extended visits allow us to tangibly express our support, inject dollars into the economy, and demonstrate to others that it is safe to visit.

On past trips we have stayed in Jerusalem and ventured out on short excursions lasting one to several days. This time we decided to spend extended times in several locations; Arad, Jerusalem, Giv'at Ada (a moshav near Binymina in the northwest), and Tel Aviv. From these we explored the surrounding areas. As we have done on previous trips, we blogged the entire 43 day trip daily – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Our way of travel is not for everyone. It is not physically taxing, but does require flexibility. No fancy hotels or “all inclusives”, few restaurants, no big cars, no organized (or what we call “sanitized”) tours, and not many “pre-determined” plans. Remaining flexible is the key, willing to make plans on-the-fly; seizing opportunities as they arise or as our interests change.

We limit our luggage to the essentials – do laundry and buy whatever we forget (remember it is a first world country). We stay in tzimmers/bed and breakfasts (clean, comfortable, safe, very friendly, and far less expensive than hotels) which we usually arrange ourselves either in advance or “on the run”. We shop and prepare many of our own “Israeli” meals. We rent the tiniest car we can get (a lesson we learned the hard way) and head off to explore one of the most fascinating tourist friendly countries in the world with a history dating back over 10,000 years. We may miss some historic details, but in exchange, we live and experience the unexpected wonders of Israel.

Israel is an easy country for a tourist to navigate, though it may not feel that way at first. Most, but not all, people speak some English and even basic Hebrew is well received and can take you a long way. It is a small country, the Carta maps we use are very detailed (we do not use a GPS), the roads are excellent, and most signs are in English (plus Hebrew and Arabic as required by law) and easy to follow, once you get the hang of it. Most importantly, everyone is willing to help --  even if you do not want it! On this trip we drove over 3000 Km, no small feat in a country just over 400 Km long.

Arriving in Israel
Arriving in Israel is not like arriving in just any other country. Stepping off the plane transports you back in time. As your feet touch ground, it is impossible not to be reminded that this is where David slew Goliath, where Moses lead us from Egypt, where Abraham bound Isaac, where the Maccabees found that crucial vile of oil, and the Zealots took their own lives rather than be slaughtered by the Romans. It is here where our ancestors have lived for over 4000 years and where we finally returned, as promised, a mere 63 years ago. It is the land of Herzl, Meir, Dayan, Ben Gurion, and Rabin. It is one of the most fought over pieces of land in all of history, though has few natural resources. It a refuge where “never again” really means ”never again”. Where celebrating a Jewish holiday is something nearly everyone does. And, no matter where you live, it is where you will always be welcomed and never need to explain the foods you eat or the customs you follow. In a word, it is HOME.

Every Israeli asked us, “Why Arad?”. It is so boring there they said. “It's complicated”, we replied, using a favourite Israeli expression. We found a perfect tzimmer – Cohen House – operated by Avi Cohen, a retired Arad policeman and a wonderful attentive host. Located atop a valley, we awoke one morning to find camels outside our door – surely not boring for us. Easy access to a great walking/hiking trail made for an exciting tour through the dry desert landscape. 

Arad is not boring, but it is quiet – very quiet.  A town of only 23,000 people, it is located in the hills of the northern Negev, a spectacularly beautiful 40 minutes from Be'er Sheva, 30 minutes from the Dead Sea and the western approach to Masada, and most important for us, near enough to the western Negev where several of our friends live. The location was perfect for exploring the northern Negev; ancient sites of Mamshit, Tel Be'er Sheva and Arad, and the two minor craters, Machtesh Gadol and Katan. It is a doable drive to the spectacular Machtesh Ramon Crater and the sites along the way which we had visited on a previous trip.  Arad is known mostly for its clean air and dry climate which is sought after by people with respiratory conditions. There is a weekly a market with mounds of fresh fruits and vegetables.

There is a terrific, fledgling artist colony where we met Gideon Fridman, a remarkable warm glass artist, Laly Lazan, a wonderful bead artist and world-renowned Dorrit Yacoby, and her expansive multimedia exhibit - The Woman of the Thousand Voices. There is even a tiny micro-winery, ASIF, where you can sample and buy a variety of wines including Pomegranate wine. 

Familiar and captivating Jerusalem was our next stop. We rented an apartment which was perfectly located in Old Katamon, a short walk to the German Colony. A small shopping area was within two minutes of our door and included a grocery store, cafe, laundry, florist, bookstore, etc. It is a long, but doable, walk to the Old City, Yafo, Ben Yehuda and King George streets – all of which we did.

Jerusalem is like home for us. We never tire of walking the historic streets, celebrating the unbelievable tranquillity of Shabbat, dining with friends, frequent visits to the Mehane Yehuda market, or simply standing before the Western Wall. This trip was particularly special as we were in Jerusalem for Passover, a pilgrimage holiday.  Before the Seder, we walked to Mea Sherim in search of hand-made Shmera matza and saw dozens of orthodox Jews, young and old, wearing Tzitzit and Kipot and lovingly preparing each piece. We purchased a box which we took to our Seder at our friends' home in Tel Aviv. We saw the kashering of pots and the burning of chametz on a street near us. We welcomed the nearly unlimited variety of Passover foods and “pastries” with no worry that “Sobey's” might run out of anything. We even bought a small dinner at a Kosher for Pesach “take-away” near us.  Nowhere else in the world will you feel as at home for a Jewish holiday than in Jerusalem.

We visited the renovated Israel Museum (a must that really requires a full day), but passed on the Shrine of the Book (another must we have seen before). We spent an afternoon in Sacher Park, an old stomping ground for us.  Located within walking distance to the Knesset, the Supreme Court, and the beautiful Wohl Rose Garden, the Park is a gathering place for families on Shabbat, holidays and other celebrations. But, the real joy of Jerusalem is simply walking the streets and through thousands of years of history.

Giv'at Ada
Our next stop was Giv'at Ada. Where you say? Giv'at Ada is a moshav located in the northwest, just outside Binymina and a 10 minute drive (if you use the back road) to Zichron Yacov. It is located on “the shoulder” of the Carmel Forest. Some people invited us to stay at their “guest house” - an offer never to be refused. It was small, but modern, clean and comfortable and our hosts, Liora and Moishe, very hospitable. They even arranged for us to attend Maimouna (a special Moroccan Jewish celebration at the end of Passover) and dine with them and their beautiful family.

This is bicycling country because of the gentle hills and beautiful agriculture lands – grapevines, apple, loquat (Sheseck in Hebrew) and olive groves, pomegranate, lemon and lime trees. We bicycled through the moshava, visited the Rothchild Garden (a must for floral lovers), Caeserea, Dalyit El Carmel (a Druze village), the beaches at Dor Harbonim (a great out-of-the-way beach and nature reserve) and the aqueducts at Caeserea. Here, on the beach, you bask in the sun of the Mediterranean with the Roman Aquaducts behind you.  One of us even went gliding near Meggido; probably the most strategic location in the world – THE crossroad from Asia to Europe.

Before leaving, we made a special trip to the Carmel to witness first hand the terrible devastation of the recent forest fire (believed to be arson) earlier this year. We stopped and said Kadish at a memorial at the location where a bus carrying police recruits to fight the fire, caught fire and killed 44 people. The Forest is already beginning to recover and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) is, as usual, there helping.

Tel Aviv
The last few days of our trip ended in Tel Aviv, where we stayed with our friends. It is no secret, we are not big fans of Tel Aviv. It is big, busy, crowded and noisy, but we braved the traffic and spent a couple of days wandering around. We still need more time – people say you need several days to really appreciate the nuance of Tel Aviv, so perhaps we are not the best judges. But we did manage to do some shopping in Neve Tzedek and the newly renovated old train station, walk the beach, and eat shwarma (twice) at the best shwarma restaurant in the area (according to our friend Elisha).

It is not inexpensive to visit Israel, but can cost far less than you might think or are used to if you are able to limit or forego the expensive hotels and restaurants. This does not mean you cannot sample them as we did, but rather exchange most of them for a longer stay and other experiences you simply cannot have otherwise. What you can see, learn and  experience our way of visiting is beyond your imagination. For example, after visiting Laly's bead shop in Arad, she invited us over for Shabbat dinner – which we accepted and had a fascinating dinner with Laly, her husband and son.  Or, while driving down the road at 100 Km/Hr on our way to Giv'at Ada, the guy next to us rolled down his window and yelled out “Welcome to Israel”.  Or on a previous trip, after receiving some dubious directions (everyone will give them even if they do not exactly know where you want to go), having our “guide” look us directly in the eye and slowly say, “It is good to have you here!”. When was the last time any of these experiences happened to you anywhere in the world?

Since one purpose of the trip is to inject dollars into the economy we have some special personal “Israel travel policies”. For example, we only fly EL AL. Prices are competitive or slightly higher, but it is worth it to us to support Israel's national airline and we feel safer on EL AL. We always rent our car from an Israeli company (we use Eldan), but there are several. We have a personal policy of trying to buy something in every shop we walk into. Practically, this is not always possible, but we try our best. In addition, as much as possible we only purchase items made in Israel, though it is growing increasingly difficult as even Israel outsources to China. We refuse to apply for the VAT refund when we leave the country, feeling it is better to leave the money there. And finally, we also prefer to make donations directly to various organizations while in Israel. Yes, we forego the tax receipt, but we know more of our dollars are going directly to the specific causes we want to support.

Tangibly demonstrating support is a another major focus of our trip. It means travelling to areas of the country where tourists may seldom go to show that all of Israel is important to us, not just the major cities or tourist sites (which must be seen at least once). In return, we are always well rewarded for “taking the road less travelled” and can confirm it truly can make all the difference.

In travelling to places that some would not venture means “sucking it up”, overcoming irrational fears, and understanding that Israel is a safe country for tourists.  For us, it means visiting our friends in the western Negev; kibbutzim and cities that have been ravaged by 10 years of on again/off again rocket fire from Gaza (well over 10,000 since 2001). It means standing on the Israel/Gaza border with our friends as they explain to us what life is like for them living there or how it has improved since the government began building security rooms in every home and reinforcing schools. It means sitting in their homes and sharing a meal, knowing that rocket fire may start again any minute. But, most of all, it means showing that we will not be intimidated or deterred from visiting – we will not stay away.

Finally, like everyone we are concerned about our safety and security no matter where we travel. But we feel far safer in Israel than we feel in some Canadian and most US cities. It has not always been like that for us, but after visiting a couple of times we better understand that the actual risk is far smaller than the perceived risk and the rewards are far greater. We know from our personal experience that news reports are often inaccurate, incomplete, exaggerated, or simply not true. We travel freely everywhere and of course pay attention not to travel into disputed territories. We know that our risk of harm is not zero, but where is it zero? We often comment that our risk of harm driving in Winnipeg (okay, maybe Montreal) is far greater than being harmed in Israel. Though driving is by far our biggest fear there too.  But somehow we managed to navigate safely, even through the incomprehensible streets of Jerusalem.

We would invite you to make your next trip to Israel. If you have never been there, you are in for an unbelievable surprise! If it has been some time since you have been there, you will be amazed at the changes. And, if you go frequently, well, you already know what is ahead for you.

If you want more information about our trip or wish to read our 43 day blog, please contact us at [email protected]. One request, if you wish to access our blog. We ask that you make a donation directly to the Sderot Media Centre in Sderot ( OR alternatively, to their Community Theatre Treatment Project which you can do through The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg (please contact [email protected])  

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