At the end of the wonderful TA dinner in Jerusalem on Nov. 10 I was pressed to write a trip report which I said I would do. But it will not be a complete trip report since so many impressions and experiences need first to be sorted out in my mind since for me this was a trip marked by a series of emotionally and spiritually charged experiences, each powerful in its own way. So I won’t get into all that. I will report on experiences that might have more general interest.
I began my trip by staying 4 nights at the Arbel Guesthouse where I had a nice room and where, at an additional charge, dinner and breakfast are available. I did not take all meal there, but I had 2 dinners and 2 breakfasts and they were, in a word, amazing in every way. The only possible negative about this guesthouse is that it is located on a moshav where cows are raised and it has a kind of “tangy” aroma in the air which I don’t mind, but some would. Here’s the contact info:
Sara & Israel Shavit
Arbel Village Lower Galilee 15282, ISRAEL
You could not find more gracious hosts than Sara & Israel Shavit.
I found early November to be a good time to be in Galilee. I wanted to see the Christian sites and all the usual places are great. My advice for the major sites is to get up early and beat the tour buses. I failed to do this on my first try at visiting Capernaum and could not get near the place for all the buses. On another day I got there at 8:00am and had the place to myself. Ditto for Bethsaida and the lace where Jesus was baptized.
The highlight of my stay in the north was a full day spent in the Golan with a really great guide whom I met through a contact I found through this web site. His name is Joe Sofair (email him at firstname.lastname@example.org). He has lived at the Mevo Hama kibbutz on the Golan for almost 40 years and knows every inch of the Golan. He took me to Susita (Hippos), an ancient Roman city overlooking the Sea Of Galilee and explained the whole incredible story of the place. He then took me all over the Golan showing me interesting places you’ll never find on your own. We had lunch at the Nidal Restaurant on the main drag in Masada, a Druze village near Mt. Hermon. Joe knows the owners and we were treated very well. W ended the day at Hamat Geder, which is owned by the Mevo Hama kibbutz. There we had a swim in the hot springs and relaxed after a long, but memorable day. I can’t tell you how much I learned and saw and how enjoyable the whole thing was. Joe has a passion for the Golan and is a natural-born teacher.
I know someone will ask, so I’ll say now that Joe is not a licensed guide. I know all the arguments for only using licensed guides and agree with most of those arguments. Nonetheless, I would enthusiastically recommend Joe if you’re interest in seeing the Golan. Sorry, but I'm not interested in debating this.
Mt. Tabor is worth a trip. Be sure to walk on the paths that circle the summit and have a look at the two churches there – Roman Catholic and Orthodox. A very beautiful place with rich biblical connections for Jews and Christians.
I spent Saturday Nov. 7 on the road from the Tiberius area down to Ben Gurion airport where I had to drop off the car before going on to Jerusalem. I got up early, had one of Sara & Israel Shavit’s fabulous breakfasts, and made stops at Akko and Caesarea on the way. I had plenty of time to see the highlights of both cities and still drop off the car and get a sherut to Jerusalem in time for dinner there.
Jerusalem simply blew my mind and I will start babbling if I try too hard to describe all I experienced there. Four nights there was a minimal-length stay.
Two words of warning: Don’t let anyone charge you more than 5 shekels for a bottle of water and don’t let yourself be taken in by a friendly guy who offers to show you around (he will eventually demand money for services rendered and will be very hard to shake off).
The highlight of my stay in Jerusalem was a half-day tour with the fabled Madeleine Levine who has been much lauded on this site by Douglas Duckett and others. She knows the Old City like the back of her hand and will show you places no tourist would every find or see without someone “in the know” to take them there. She is a fun, funny, and all-around delightful person and a joy to be with. She will also introduce you to her friends in the Old City and show you reputable merchants from whom you can get quality goods. Don’t go to Jerusalem without engaging Madeleine for at least a half day (email@example.com, cell: 054-4504098).
A few of the Old City merchants Madeleine introduced me to:
• Lina’s – a famous place for hummus in the Christian Quarter
• Moses Aintablian – a jeweler in the Christian Quarter (shop #27) who does very creative and beautiful work. His son-in-law also makes lovely ceramic tiles with biblical scenes that are really nice
• Josef Natsheh Emporium – a dealer in Bedouin jewelry, Bukhara carpets, and Suzani embroidery – really nice things at reasonable prices
Another highlight, of a different sort, was a visit to Yad Vashem - The Holocaust martyrs' and heroes' remembrance memorial. I took the bus from the city center and needed about 2 hours to go through the place (others might want a bit more or les time). Be prepared to be moved to tears and even sobs by the time you get to the end of the exhibits. Don’t miss this place.
I also spent a half day with Sam Salem in Bethlehem. This is Sam’s home town, so he knows it intimately and will show you all you will ever want to see there. It was sad to see the concrete wall separating the West Bank from Israel on the day the world was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I pray this one will come down soon as well.
While in Bethlehem I had the opportunity to meet Sam’s wife, two beautiful little daughters, and his mother-in-law. It was an honor to receive their gracious hospitality. Sam’s contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walking and exploring – that’s what I did the rest of the time. And I seized every opportunity to talk with the locals about themselves and their lives in Israel.
The TA dinner on Nov. 10 was a great opportunity to meet and talk with others who have used this forum and have contributed so much to it. Thanks to all who were there for making that a memorable evening.
Beautiful country, beautiful people, beautiful experience. Israel is place full of sharp contrasts. I’m planning my next trip there already.