Recent visitors to Israel’s Caesarea National Park have witnessed a beehive of activity, with cordoned-off areas hidden under scaffolding and dozens of workers digging to reveal the layers of the ancient Mediterranean port’s controllers over time. Major plans are afoot to uncover more of the multi-layered, 125-acre archaeological haven situated midway between Haifa and Tel Aviv, in an effort to attract larger numbers of tourists. Michael Karsenty, CEO of the Caesarea Development Company, declares that once the $27.5 million development project is completed, Caesarea will rival Jerusalem as “the main tourism site in Israel.”
Cross the August Bridge over the Elbe River towards the Old Oity of Dresden on a tour bus, and you’ll likely hear “oohs” and “aahs” from tourists as they behold the restored Baroque skyline that made Dresden the “Florence of the Elbe.” The infamous Anglo-American firebombing of February 1945 turned the Old City into rubble. Yet while other German cities suffered equal or greater devastation, Dresden captures the public’s imagination because the city houses some of the world’s most stunning Baroque churches and palaces. “About 10 years ago, American tourists had no idea what they were going to see,” said Nadav Gablinger, CEO of Gablinger Tours, a company offering Dresden day trips led by Hebrew-speaking and English-speaking guides. “They were in shock when they arrived in Dresden. They expected ruins.”
When shooting the movie Exodus, Paul Newman was a frequent visitor in Achzivland, and Rina Avivi seems to be proud of it. Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot and Bar Refaeli also apparently got their summer tans in this remote and idyllic bay situated only a stone’s throw away from the Lebanese border and Nahariya, Israel’s northernmost city. “I met Sophia when I just moved to Achzivland. She taught me how to make real good spaghetti,” recalls the 70-year-old Avivi, who starts laughing. It comes as no surprise that the rich and famous gathered on this little stretch of beach to get a glimpse of this controversial place and its inhabitants. Nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and the green hills of the Galilee, about 9 miles north of Acre, lies the empire called Achzivland. It has been more than 60 years since fisherman Eli Avivi founded this micro-state spanning 3.5 acres, limited by the country road on the right and the ocean waves on the left.
By mid-April, spring is in full swing in Israel, with trees and wildflowers in bloom and daytime temperatures in the 70s (°F). The timing couldn’t be better given that on Passover, much of Israel’s citizenry—and countless tourists—are off from work and school, making them intent on discovering the nation’s most breathtaking sites. Moving from south to north, JNS.org presents 10 popular destinations for Passover travel in Israel, encompassing both the “greatest hits” and the “hidden treasures.”
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.