Jewish & Israel Travel
JNS.org regularly covers Jewish and Israel travel news and tips, from the best places to visit in the Jewish state to Jewish-themed tourist sites around the world and Jewish travel related news. To select another topic, choose from the other content “categories” in our navigation bar.
Sometimes you’ll find the most splendid synagogues in the places you least expect. Such was the case during travel writer Dan Fellner's recent three-day trip to Boise, Idaho, a popular gateway for skiing, river rafting, and hiking that isn’t exactly known for being a hotbed of Jewish life. Yet just a five-minute drive from downtown sits the oldest continuously in-use synagogue west of the Mississippi River. And it’s far more than just a beautiful wood building. As Fellner learned, Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel is the centerpiece of a surprisingly robust Jewish community with a fascinating history.
There’s a Russian folk tale about an elderly couple building a little snow girl to fill the void they feel over not being able to have a child. Suddenly, seemingly in a gift from God, the snow girl comes to life. Upon reaching age 29, Alina Dain Sharon writes that she’s come to feel as if she has symbolically done the same in a geographical and emotional journey that began in snowy Russia, and has since spanned three continents and nations over the past 25 years.
You’ve traveled to Israel one, two, or three times. You’ve seen the Western Wall, taken a tour of the City of David, and visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum. Now it’s time to experience something atypical, creative, and uncommon. JNS.org offers six Jerusalem stops that will tickle your palate, color your vision of the Holy City, and restore your faith in humankind.
The unofficial status of Berlin and Tel Aviv as sister cities is easy to understand. Both cities are drenched with nightlife, culture, and cafés. Especially in the gray, rainy winter, “Tel Aviv envy” creeps up among Berliners. But in the summer, Tel Avivers may get a case of Berlin envy, especially as heat waves plague the Israeli metropolis. The hot Tel Aviv beach sometimes doesn’t provide that same summer satisfaction that comes with the lively bodies of water, parks, beer gardens, and outdoor markets that the German capital provides as compensation for depressing winters. For those seeking a summer weekend in temperatures that are unpredictably mild, or who want to delve into this creative, multicultural city for more than just Germany’s dark past and tortured history, JNS.org offers a mini-weekend guide taking you across the city, from west to east.
Akko (also known as Acre), an Israeli city famous for Crusader-Muslim showdowns and Napoleon’s failed attempt to take its port from the Ottomans, is undergoing a transformation. In 2001, UNESCO named Acre as a World Heritage Site, a designation that spurred the municipality to cultivate world-class tourism attractions. Yet until now, Akko didn’t have the high-end accommodations to match the prestigious UNESCO designation. Creative entrepreneurs are increasingly realizing how this mixed Jewish-Arab city offers a model of coexistence, at a time when Muslim-Jewish tensions are heightened due to the spate of stabbings and other terror attacks against Jews in the streets of Israel. With its stone seawall recalling the city’s days as a fortress and a lively port, Akko evinces the antique charm of places like Jerusalem and Jaffa—minus the commercialization.
“Israel is the only place in the world where students, women, and kids can go by themselves to swim in the Tel Aviv beach at sunset, bike through the mountains, or jog through one of the central parks,” says Amir Halevi, director general of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. “There is no other place where there is so much to do and people can feel safe doing it.” Halevi tells JNS.org that he has seen a steady rise in people from all over the world traveling to Israel, even during times of heightened security concerns such as the current wave of terror—and despite the high travel costs. Hotel prices in Israel have increased by 70 percent over the last decade. Even with alternatives to El Al, such as Turkish Airlines and Austrian Airlines, taking a plane halfway around the world is expensive. Enter Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who is trying to make Israel travel more affordable. Levin recently presented a bill designed to reduce the cost of vacationing in Israel by 20 percent over five years. The bill passed its first Israeli Knesset reading, and Halevi says it is expected to come up for second and third readings within the next few weeks. Levin's ministry is also working through public-private partnerships to make Israel more accessible to all types of tourists.
Yoney Skiba welcomes guests to the full-size Ethiopian hut in the yard of her home on Kibbutz Evron, near Nahariya, close to Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. Skiba, who came to Israel as a child in the 1994 Operation Solomon, offers a brief talk to tourists about her aliyah experience and Ethiopian-Jewish culture; points out various authentic Ethiopian artifacts and artwork in the hut; prepares traditional injera sourdough flatbread; and demonstrates the preparation of Ethiopian coffee. Ethiopian-Jewish music heightens the experience that she offers to groups, students, Jews, and non-Jews interested in learning about the culture of a significant Jewish community and its efforts to integrate into Israeli society. Skiba’s Mevrahatey (My Light) initiative is just one of hundreds of projects adopted by the Treasures of the Galilee umbrella group, with the goal of jumpstarting tourism in Israel’s Western Galilee region. Some of the most offbeat and creative tourism initiatives in the area are headed by enterprising women like Skiba, who are looking to increase their business.
Several Viennese Jews have made a lasting impact on the world. Sigmund Freud’s investigations changed the face of modern psychology. Composer Arnold Schoenberg’s innovations in atonal music changed the face of music. These days, even more Jews—in particular, Israeli Jews—are changing the face of Vienna’s culinary scene with innovations in…the art of the pita.
Among Thailand’s most sought-after tourism destinations are the tropical islands—Ko Samui, Koh Pha Ngan, and Ko Tao. Israeli regulars to Thailand will offer several reasons for why they keep coming back: the beautiful beaches; luxury resorts that can go for $50/night; cheap, professional massages on every corner ($12/hour on average); and the smiles of the Thai people. Those in search of Jewish spirituality should opt for Chabad’s Friday night services, about five minutes away from “hookers row,” a grimy street lined with unkosher massage parlors and Thai prostitutes who are known to call Israelis “kamtzan” (miser) if they refuse their aggressive advances. But Chabad is the cure. A mixture of post-Israeli army trekkers, partiers, honeymooners, and businessman unite with the tribe for beautiful song and divrei Torah provided by Rabbi Mendy’s outgoing, wholesome daughters. If you want to go easy on the sleazy, try the quieter Ko Samui beaches, like Lamai Beach, home to brand-name and specialty five-star resorts, writes recent Israeli tourist in Thailand Orit Arfa.
While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert—so going luxury should be a cinch. JNS.org offers six ways to travel Israel in style.
The Vista Club at Tel Aviv Hilton sits 17 stories above the Mediterranean shoreline. As Hilton’s Israel chief, Ronnie Fortis, spoke to reporters over breakfast late last month, storm clouds began to roll in and obscure the panoramic view. The windows began to shake loudly, but inside, breakfast went on without a hitch. The analogy is hard to miss: even as violence rages in full view, Israeli society refuses to miss a beat. When it comes to the international community, Israel faces a messaging challenge. Yes, the country is battling an ideological enemy intent on destroying its way of life with all available means, including knives and cars. But is the Jewish state safe to visit? Absolutely, Israeli government and hospitality officials say.
Thousands of Christians travel to the Holy Land each year to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and discover the land of the Bible. Israel is undeniably the ultimate destination for those seeking to embrace a deeper connection to their faith. The country is full of sites that are significant to both the Old and New Testament, historically and religiously. Noam Matas, general manager of America Israel Tours, offers his list of 10 must-visit sites for Christian tourists in Israel.
It was a brave—some may argue foolhardy—lot who recently braved the August heat of the Negev desert to walk a short segment of the Israel National Trail (INT) at around noontime. But the nearly 100 young men in blue Israel Defense Forces t-shirts didn’t appear to mind the blazing white heat. They were on the INT (Shvil Yisra’el in Hebrew, though to most Israelis it’s just “the Shvil”) to train. “We get lots of practice on different altitudes,” says Aaron Lion, 20. “The Shvil is a really good place to learn how to survive in lots of different conditions.” Now celebrating its 20th year, the INT takes a meandering 620-mile route from Kibbutz Dan, among Israel’s northernmost points, to the southern tip of Eilat’s Gulf of Aqaba.
When Haaretz approved writer Karni Eldad’s idea for an article on B&Bs (bed and breakfasts) in Judea and Samaria, the left-leaning Israeli newspaper probably didn’t envision that the assignment would be the precursor to an entire book on the subject. But after Eldad discovered the abundance of boutique tourist attractions in the area, that’s exactly what happened. While Judea and Samaria is often scapegoated by the international community—and by media outlets just like Haaretz—for being a territorial “obstacle” to peace, Eldad’s “Yesha is Fun: The good life guide to Judea and Samaria” explores a lesser-known dimension of the Jewish communities beyond the Green Line. Whether it be medallion-encrusted wines in Binyamin, branded olive oils in Samaria, a holiday cottage under the glow of the Judean desert’s sky, a restaurant on a farm in Gush Etzion, or the cheeses of the southern Hebron hills, Judea and Samaria’s treasures flew under the radar before Eldad published her book.
“Visits of condolence is all we get from them. They squat at the Holocaust Memorial, they put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall, and they laugh behind the heavy curtains in their hotels,” Israeli author Yehuda Amichai wrote in a poem about tourists visiting the Holy Land. MEJDI Tours seeks to offer the antithesis of Amichai’s image, looking at the concurrent narratives of Israelis and Palestinians as a means of helping visitors understand the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Paired with both Israeli and Palestinian tour guides for their trips, participants can meet with a Palestinian living in Hebron and a Jew from a Judea and Samaria community like Susya—in the same day.
Tel Aviv’s iconic King Albert Square is in the midst of a significant makeover. The Norman Tel Aviv, a luxurious boutique establishment, has restored two buildings on Nachmani Street, in the center of the Tel Aviv UNESCO heritage site for historic Bauhaus architecture. The newly renovated hotel’s management is also a dedicated patron of the arts, seeking to support contemporary artistic expression in Israel. When complete, the complex will be a travel destination that houses and showcases many avant-garde cultural treasures.
In the days before Passover, workmen scrambled to put the finishing touches on the grand building that was originally built by the notorious Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini, in 1929 as the Palace Hotel. The outer shell of the building, with its ornate Turkish designed masonry, has been preserved and restored, while the inside of the hotel has been completely rebuilt—into the new Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem. “It’s the longest restoration project in Israel’s history,” explains General Manager Guy Klaiman as he leads visitors through the shiny lobby, replete with exquisite Italian furniture and tasteful oversized flower arrangements.
Just several months since Israel and the European Union officially signed their historic “Open Skies” travel agreement, providing all European and Israeli airlines with equal opportunities to launch direct service to and from Tel Aviv, a slew of airlines are already hard at work trying to expand their offerings. “Israel will become the country of choice for many more sectors of people, who will want to take advantage of Israel’s warm climate in addition to unique religious, historical, and cultural sites,” Israeli Tourism Minister Dr. Uzi Landau told JNS.org.
Past the Gaza Strip, toward the rocket-battered city of Sderot, a new train now connects isolated Negev communities to the larger Israeli population centers. Not surprisingly, the Sderot line also opens the gates to increased tourism in that region. The train ride through the desert territory to the south offers travelers a unique glimpse into the social-economic and national security realities faced by the modern state of Israel. It is also a starkly beautiful, scenic, and rugged trail of adventure.