I previously had a notion of Israel in my mind as an unsafe, pretty boring place to go that was just full of desert. I imagined it as super religious, traditional, and overall bland.
However, I soon found that I was completely wrong! Last summer I was lucky enough to go on a Birthright trip with my school to Israel! Though Israel had not previously been on my travel list, after visiting, I can’t help but to rave about how cool of a place it actually was. (I’ll talk about how cool the Birthright experience itself was and how to know if you’re eligible for one on a later post!) Not only is it a safe place to visit, it is full of culture and a ton of really unique places to visit to either admire nature or learn something new!
Well now that I’ve (hopefully) sorted out some of the preconceptions you may have about visiting Israel, here are some reasons why you should plan a trip!
- Tel Aviv: Looking for a big city with great beaches, great nightlife, and an urban and welcoming crowd? Look no further than Tel Aviv. It’s a very modern and inviting place to travel, and has even been nicknamed “The Gay Capital.” By day, enjoy the local markets or beaches. I was personally stoked to see some surf and could have definitely spent a few days soaking in the sun. The markets and shopping provided good food for an affordable price and an outlet to meet some really cool people! If you want to learn about Israeli history, drop by the Independence Hall to see where David Ben-Gurion declared Israel an independent state in 1948! By night, enjoy a fun bar and club scene. Whatever you’re looking for, Tel Aviv does not disappoint.
- You can ride a camel: Okay this one isn’t actually as cool as it sounds. But maybe you’ll snag a super cool selfie? (Hint: don’t get too close though, you might get your face bitten off.)
- Jerusalem: The Holy City itself. This city is holy to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Exploring the different areas of the city, you can really appreciate the long standing history of these different religions and cultures, and see how they interact with one another. You do not have to be religious AT ALL to enjoy this city! Even though I was on a Jewish orientated trip, I do not consider myself to be a religious person, and Jerusalem still captivated my interests with its rich history and beauty. However, there are parts of Jerusalem that I did not like. For example, the separation of men and woman in holy places, the separation of the city into religious sects, etc.
- The local cuisine: The best part of traveling is always the food, and Israel is no exception. Get ready to eat a ton of hummus, shawarma, falafel, etc. Also, did you know that the northern part of Israel, Golan Heights, is a great place for wine? You can go tour a winery and enjoy a glass (or 5) of the local flavors.
- The Dead Sea: Also mixed emotions on this one. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth (420 meters below sea level!) that borders both Israel and Jordan. Its *super cool* quality is that it’s full of salt! This makes the water more buoyant, and means that you’ll float in the water with ease! Seriously though, it’s almost impossible to put your legs on the ground, and it’s actually kind of weird. Also, BEWARE: If you let it, the salt will burn any open wounds or crevices on your body. Use your imagination. It isn’t a good time. Do NOT open your legs wide, do NOT rub your eyes, do NOT fart: It will let the water in and you will be very sad. If being in a world of excruciating pain isn’t your thing, maybe just enjoy the sea from a distance. Or, take the plunge if you’re brave. It’s worth a good instagram photo (but that’s basically all it’s good for). Or if you want another cool photo opportunity without risking your well being, just grab some mud and lather it on. It’s both fun and good for your skin!
- Masada: One of the highlights of my trip was a hike up to Masada to watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea. It was a beautiful and peaceful sight to watch, even if we did have to wake up around 4 in the morning to make it happen. Masada itself is an ancient fortification believed to have been sieged by the Romans at the end of the First Roman-Jewish War, and according to ancient texts by Josephus, all of its inhabitants (about 900) committed a mass suicide, although there is no archeological evidence to prove it.
- The great outdoors: Wait, Israel isn’t just a desert?!?!?! I know… you’re shocked, I’m shocked, we are all shocked. Actually though, Israel has some really awesome places to opt outside. While on our trip, we went on three hikes that all had really different unique and beautiful landscapes to offer. In addition, Israel is the leading nation in water recycling, which allows for using that water for agriculture. (California really could learn a thing or two!) Pretty cool, right?
- Being immersed into a classroom: When you visit a place, your ability to learn about it increases. Even though as a visitor, you are not a part of the culture, it is easier to observe and to try to understand when you are present. Sometimes, you even see history in action. Mount Bental is a prime example. On the Israeli side of the Israel/Syrian border, it offers a unique view into what the current state of Syria is like. When we arrived, my tour guide warned us that we may hear bombs in the distance. No warning could have truly prepared us for what followed: the sound of bomb after bomb explode in the distance. It was a truly heart-breaking experience to be standing safe far away from the chaos, but to hear the sound of people dying, without being able to intervene. I’ve never felt so hopeless in my life. Though this was not in any way a positive experience, it was by far the most important and powerful experience I had while in Israel. Though there is absolutely no way I could ever understand what people in this part of the world are going through, it provided an important role in educating me about current issues in the world that I would not have received otherwise.
I know that ended on a rather serious note, but all in all, Israel is a great place to visit with a ton to offer, and I hope you give it consideration when planning your next trip.