Israel Travel Tips

Old Yishuv Court (Museum)

The Isaac Kaplan Old Yishuv Court Museum is located in an ancient 500-year-old house in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. The museum tells the story of Jewish life inside the city walls, from the 16th century up until 1948 when the Jordanians conquered the Old City and expelled the Jews.

Old Yishuv Court

Old Yishuv Court Museum

The house and its rooms surround an inner court, the “Chatzer”. Each room held a family: parents, 3-4 children and sometimes the grandfather or grandmother, or perhaps an old aunt. The water in those days was drawn from a cistern in the courtyard. Of particular interest is the bedroom from the mid 19th century. At that time the city’s population counted a mere 15,000 inhabitants, among them 6,000 Jews. The bed displayed here – one of a total of 6 that were available in the city – was a luxury item. A husband would rent the bed for his pregnant wife to give birth. The inscriptions and amulets were placed in the room to protect the infant and mother.

Living conditions in Jerusalem were difficult in those days, to say the least. Much throughout the 19th century life expectancy in Jerusalem reached about 35 years. 4 out of 5 children would die before reaching the age of 1. Reasons for the high death toll in the yishuv were, among others, lack of hygiene, water pollution, population density, young age of the mothers, poverty and malnutrition, lack of medical care, and more. And if that wasn’t enough, every once in a while a deathly epidemic or a famine would take its toll from the inhabitants.

Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Weingarten

Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Weingarten, mukhtar of the Jewish Quarter (photo by John Phillips, from his book “Jerusalem: A Will to Survive”)

Until 1850 most Jews living in Jerusalem were from Sephardic (meaning “Spanish”) origin, many of whom refugees that fled from the Spanish inquisition at the end of the 15th century. The house became home of the Weingarten family, descendants of Shlomo Pach Rosental, one of the first Ashkenazi Jews to settle in the Jewish quarter in the early 19th century. From 1935 to 1948 Mordechai Weingarten held the title mukhtar (the head of the neighborhood) of the Jewish Quarter.

Inside the house are also two synagogues: the Or HaChaim synagogue and the ARI synagogue, named after Rabbi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi known by his Hebrew acronym Ha’ARI Hakadosh (“The Holy ARI”). According to tradition, the ARI was born in one of the rooms in this house, in 1534. Educated in Egypt, the ARI eventually moved to Safed in the Galilee, where he became a leading rabbi and kabbalist. Today he is referred to as the father of contemporary Kabbalah. During the 1936 Arab riots the ARI synagogue was looted and burned down.

Pashkvil

Pashkvil

The exhibition includes a collection of pashkvilim (singular pashkvil) or posters usually raising religious issues and calling Jewish citizens to obey the halakhic or religious laws. These pashkvilim offer a valuable insight into the 19th and 20th century Haredi Jewish society.

Camel Riding at the Negev Camel Ranch

The Negev Camel Ranch or CameLand is located along the northern Incense Route, next to the ancient Nabatean city of Mamshit. Owner Ariel Ullmann, a zoologist by education and environmentalist by nature, raises riding camels since 1986. Set in a biblical landscape, the Negev Camel Ranch offers camel riding tours, desert hospitality and lodging.

Camel tours can be booked for one hour or more and lead through the desert landscape surrounding Mamshit, along the ancient Incense Route. If you want to experience the tranquility and serenity of the desert, this is the place.

Camel riding

Negev Camel Ranch

In addition to camel riding, the Negev Camel Ranch offers accommodation in desert huts that can house up to 5 people.

For further information, visit www.cameland.co.il

 

Mahane Yehuda Market

Mahane Yehuda market

Mahane Yehuda market

Mahane Yehuda market has long been a landmark in Jerusalem. Some even describe it as a “national treasure“. One thing is certain – if you want to meet authentic people, you need to look no further. This picturesque marketplace lies outside the old city near the center of modern Jerusalem, between Jaffa road to the north and Agripas street to the south. It’s easily accessible by public transport, either bus or tram.

Knafeh (or kanafeh)

Knafeh (or kanafeh), a local dessert

Hundreds of vendors sell a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts, meat, spices and other food. Want to taste the Levantine cuisine? You will find plenty of cafes, restaurants (including the famous Machneyuda gourmet restaurant), bars and pubs, turning the market into a culinary destination. One of them is the Que Pasa Tapas Bar which also sells a nice variety of local beer.

Mahane Yehuda market is not only visited by Jerusalem residents – religious or secular, Jewish or Arab, rich or poor – but also by a growing number of visitors from other parts of Israel as well as foreign tourists.

From Beit Yaakov market to Loan and Savings market

Mahane Yehuda or “camp of Yehuda” got its name from the nearby neighborhood by the same name, which was founded in 1887 by three business partners: Johannes Frutiger (a Swiss Protestant banker), Shalom Konstrum, and Joseph Navon. The neighborhood was named after Joseph Navon’s elder brother Yehuda. Originally the market was called the Beit Yaakov marketplace after another nearby neighborhood. There Arab merchants and fellaheen (farmers) from Lifta, Deir Yassin, and Sheikh Badr sold their produce to the predominantly Jewish residents of the new neighborhoods. By the 1920s the sanitary conditions deteriorated so much that the British mandate government had to order the vendors to vacate the place.

Mahane Yehuda

Halva’a ve-Hisahon (Loan and Saving) market

This is when the Halva’a ve-Hisahon (Loan and Saving) bank jumped in and provided low-interest loans to the vendors, but under one condition – that the market be named after the bank. There is still a sign left in an alley of the market that attests to this agreement. Recently the marketplace has undergone further renovations.

Que Pasa at the Mahane Yehuda market

Enjoying a (local) beer at the Que Pasa

Friday is a particular busy day, when many locals go shopping for Shabbat. As the weekend approaches, people relax in the coffee shops and bars inside the market compound.

Mahane Yehuda market, Jerusalem

Young ladies smoking nargila (narghile or water pipe) at a Mahane Yehuda pub

Lebanese cuisine

Manou Bashouk Lebanese cuisine

Tel Aviv streets

Tel Aviv is the vibrant hub of Israel. No Israel visit is complete without spending a couple of days at least in this metropolis. With regard to culture Tel Aviv compares with New York, London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Paris, and Berlin. Whether you are into art, music, architecture, design, food, you name it, Tel Aviv is the place to visit. Add to that sunny beaches and the sea and I doubt you’ll find much competition.

While on a tour through some of the many art galleries I managed to take some photos of street scenes and architecture.

Bauhaus architecture

Bauhaus style in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv architecture

Ahad Ha’am Street

Tel Aviv architecture

Historic school building in Ahad Ha’am street

Modern architecture

Highrise building near Rotschild Blvd.

The last picture shows a modern highrise office building. Nowadays they seem to pop out everywhere in Tel Aviv. But pay attention to the one-story building in front from the early 20th century.

The name Tel Aviv was inspired by Herzl’s book “Altneuland” meaning “old new country”. “Tel” is an archaeological mound or hill made of layer upon layer of rubble from many generations of people living and rebuilding on the same place. “Aviv” means “spring” in Hebrew, symbolizing the new beginning. The name Tel Aviv is taken from Ezekiel 3:15, “…and I came to the exiles at Tel Aviv”.

Rothschild Blvd. is also the place to be if you are into new-age technologies.

ebay innovation center

Israel innovation center

For more on Tel Aviv and my tours, see here.

Freedom

While touring the old city of Jerusalem to capture some images of the snowfall, I found the following banner on the way to the 9th station of the Via Dolorosa, near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

IS followers executing Christians

Banner at the 9th station of the Via Dolorosa, near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The banner shows photos of captured Christians just before being slaughtered by Muslim extremists associated with the Islamic State.

Once upon a time the Islamic countries have been a haven for Jews who fled the inquisition that raged in Europe. But the dissemination of antisemitic Nazi propaganda in many Arab countries, followed by the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the Arab-Israeli war, triggered widespread persecution and pogroms against Jewish communities. Eventually more than 800,000 Jews fled.

As it seems, Muslim supremacists don’t stop there. After the Jews, Christian and other minority groups are now subject to persecution in many Muslim countries. Following that, or perhaps concurrently, other Muslims fall victim to these murderers, Muslims who do not follow their doctrines. Sounds familiar?

Martin Niemöller, an outspoken foe of Hitler who had been detained in concentration camps for 7 years, said:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Didn’t the world suffer enough under the supremacists? Whatever color, race, or religion they came from?

Standing in the old city of Jerusalem and looking at the banner, it suddenly struck me: Today Israel is probably the only country in the entire Middle East where Christians – and Muslims, Jews, Baha’i, Druze, Ahmadis, etc. – enjoy religious freedom and human rights. As a matter of fact, the Israeli government – whether rightist or leftist or center – is often making great compromises to accommodate the beliefs and sensitivities of its religious communities. For instance shortly after the 1967 conquest of the West Bank, the Israeli government gave the Islamic Waqf authority over the Temple Mount, despite the Jewish heritage of the site. Today Muslims have free entry any day and time and through any gate without going through security controls, whereas non-Muslims have restricted access and undergo tedious security checks. Moreover, only Muslims are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, and Christians and Jews aren’t even allowed to enter the area carrying a Bible or Torah in their bag.

On the other side, Christians were allowed to return to the Cenacle (“Upper Room” or “room of the Last Supper”) only after the State of Israel had been established. Today the Catholics have administrative control over the site which is owned by the State of Israel. The Baha’i chose Haifa to build their world center and the Universal House of Justice. Of course there are many more examples.

Which leads me to the question: How come Israel not only respects religious freedom, but goes to great lengths to uphold it? It is my opinion that it has to do with the Jewishness of the state of Israel. Jewish belief and doctrines do not include proselytizing among non-Jews. It would be rather absurd for Jews to try to influence the religious views of gentiles. Judaism isn’t in any competition with Islam or Christianity over converts. If I’d had to put Jewish attitude towards non-Jews into a simple phrase, it would be “live and let live”.

But there are more reasons behind religious tolerance than the state’s Jewish character. The first and foremost reason is self-preservation. Israel will not want to antagonize the Muslim populace inside the country nor in its neighboring Arab countries or the Muslim world at large, which counts more than 1.5 billion people. Similarly, Christian concerns have been answered in likewise fashion, as can be seen in Nazareth where the Israeli government and court stopped the construction of a mosque next to the Basilica of the Annunciation (see for example the NYT article of 2002).

It isn’t easy to accommodate different religions, as has been seen in Nazareth. But given the religious significance of Jerusalem and other sites for the three monotheist faiths, Israel has done quite a remarkable job. In any case, I’m glad I live in Israel!

Murad Castle Museum for Palestinian Heritage

Murad Castle Museum

Curator Ishaq Al-Hroub in front of a Bedouin tent

The Murad Castle Museum for Archaeology and Palestinian Heritage – also named Solomon Pools Museum – is located across Solomon’s Pools in al-Khader, a suburb of Bethlehem governed by the Palestinian National Authority. Those who expect to find a wealth of antiquities will be disappointed – you can see those in the shape of the above mentioned pools right across the street. (By the way, the name “Solomon’s Pools” is a misnomer, since they were created around 900 years after Solomon’s time by the Hasmoneans or Herod the Great, as part of a complex water system supplying water to Jerusalem and the Temple.)

Ishal Al-Hroub, Murad Castle Museum (Solomon Pools Museum)

Ishaq Al-Hroub demonstrates the use of a flint stone to light a fire

However, those of you interested in the Palestinian culture will hit a goldmine. Over a period of several decades curator Ishaq Al-Hroub himself collected the many and diverse artifacts shown in the museum. He travelled the region as a pedlar and bought and sold goods. Most of the items on display are typical tools and items used by local craftsmen and fellahin (peasants or farmers).

Of particular value are the traditional costumes and headdresses of  women. One can also notice the cultural diversity of the population. Christian necklaces are displayed alongside Muslim necklaces whose differences can easily escape the untrained eye. This leads us to the most important part of the exhibit: Ishaq Al-Hroub. During his guidance through the museum (in excellent English), Mr. Al-Hroub explains the items, tells their stories, and often gives a hands-on display of their use, in order to turn those inanimate objects into a living story. His combination of profound knowledge with his enthusiasm so captivated us that we totally lost track of the time. It was well worth it!

The entrance fee to both the Solomon Pools and the Museum is 10 Shekel. If you visit Bethlehem and like to learn more about the local culture and history, take some time to visit this little jewel of a museum.

Note: Photos published with the kind permission of Ishaq Al-Hroub.

Abraham’s Tent

Abraham’s tent is located at Genesis Land in the Judean desert, close to Jerusalem. Abraham and his servant Eliezer welcome their guests in a Bedouin tent (yes, you could call Abraham a Bedouin, he certainly led a nomadic life). We reach the tent riding on a camel while enjoying the breathtaking view of the Judean desert.

Once at the tent we are served dried fruits, self-made pita bread, tea, and coffee. At the same time Abraham and his servant revive the Biblical story in a most entertaining way.

Genesis Land is suitable for families and groups, old and young alike. In addition to Jewish hospitality, Genesis Land also offers camping in the desert, including clean bathroom facilities. Those who are looking for gifts and souvenirs will find a nice assortment of handcrafted pottery, jewellery, carpets, and much more at the local Gift Shop.

Eliezer welcomes us at Abraham's tent

Eliezer welcomes us at Genesis Land