It’s strange to be back from Israel. Or more accurately, it’s not strange, and that’s strange. It’s actually pretty easy to be back. Wonderful to see my friends and the cat and especially my perfect American shower (what is the rest of the world thinking??), and not even too bad to go back to work. But Israel was such an incredible experience that I don’t want everything to go back to exactly the way it was before. So I’m working to find little ways to keep what I found there with me in some way. Writing things down is at least a start.
It’s hard to know where to begin, but here are some questions I got quite a bit of before I left and answers from the heart of the beast. A summary of my itinerary in Israel is also below.
Is it safe?
This is a pretty definitive yes. Though I wasn’t as worried as some people, I did expect to find something of a war zone. Couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, there is ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. And yes, the security in Israel is more visible than in the United States. There are checkpoints with uniformed soldiers on the road (particularly into and out of Jerusalem) that would be difficult to miss. And military weapons are very visible, often in the possession of soldiers out of uniform, which is certainly something to get used to. But kids play baseball in beautifully landscaped parks in Jerusalem, Bedouin nomads serve coffee and play music safe and sound in tents in the Negev desert and people laugh and float in the Dead Sea – in short, the majority of Israel is peaceful, happy, sometimes even idyllic.
Isn’t it just a desert?
Not at all. This is another thing I was surprised to find. The south end of the country is overwhelmed by the Negev desert (beautiful in its own way, but certainly a bit of an ecological wasteland), but Jerusalem is surprisingly green, Tel Aviv is on the Mediterranean and even a bit humid and the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee are absolutely gorgeous - rocky and green and a little reminiscent of Ireland. Overall, I’d say the climate is somewhat like California with a really hot summer.
Is everyone a Superjew? Do I have to be religious?
Nope. It’s pretty neat to be in a place where most people are Jewish (if you think about it, places in the United States are considered to be “very Jewish” if the population reaches 15% or so), but Israel mirrors the world Jewish population in its lack of religious fervor. There are large populations of Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, but in general, the country is fairly secular. That said, it is a very noticeably Jewish state. The weekend is Friday-Saturday and stores are closed on Saturday in observance of Shabbat. And I doubt anyone knew it was Lent, which is pretty hilarious to any Jew from the US…
Do Orthodox Jews spit on people?
I’ve heard this can be a problem for those who are not respectful of holy places. For instance, those who are not dressed modestly at the Western Wall have been known to have altercations. But I behaved myself at all times (of course!) and though I think that as a culture, our interpretation of modest dress can be a little…loose…we had no problems. The Orthodox went about their business and we went about ours.
Why do we work so hard to preserve Israel? I’ve heard it’s a terrible place to live.
I actually only heard this question twice (and not in so many words), so this is a bit of an excuse to get up on my soapbox. But it’s important. Israel is a beautiful, fertile, happy place. The people who live there are proud, grateful, and determined to keep the land they love. I would encourage anyone who doubts it to go – you’ll fall in love too.
March 1-11, 2009
Day 1 & Day 10
Day 2: Jerusalem/Judean Desert
Hike through the Judean foothills – Biblical Israel Plant a tree in Jerusalem
Day 3: Jerusalem
The Old City and the Western Wall
Day 4: The Negev Desert
Desert waterfall hike
Floating in the Dead Sea
The Bedouin experience
Day 5: Negev/Jersualem
Negev canyons hike
Israeli soldiers arrive
Mahane Yehuda (Jerusalem's marketplace)
Shabbat candle ceremony and return to the Western Wall
Day 6: Shabbat in Jerusalem
Walking tour of Jerusalem
Havdallah ceremony to welcome a new week
Day 7: Jerusalem/Galilee
Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum)
Har Herzl (Israeli military cemetery)
Overnight on a Kibbutz
Day 8: Galilee/Tzfat/Tel Aviv
View of the Sea of Galilee and Tiberius
Kaballah - Jewish Mysticism Purim in Tel Aviv.
Day 9: Tel Aviv
Independence Hall and Rabin Square
Quick tour of Jaffa (ancient seaport & artist colony)