Religion & Beliefs

Eight Underappreciated Tourist Gems in Israel

Whether you're contemplating your first or fifteenth trip to Israel, the following destinations are unique, hidden gems that won’t be crawling with tour groups.  Birthright, Ulpan, and Federation trip alums can rest assured that these won't be repeats. 1. Stroll … Read More

By / May 8, 2008

Whether you're contemplating your first or fifteenth trip to Israel, the following destinations are unique, hidden gems that won’t be crawling with tour groups.  Birthright, Ulpan, and Federation trip alums can rest assured that these won't be repeats. 1. Stroll in Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Landscape Reserve You may have already visited the amazing Biblical Zoo, but how about a botanical gardens that shows you all of the plants and flowers mentioned in the Bible? It’s gorgeous, fun, and educational in the marginal ‘not-too-boring’ kind of way. 2. Check Out the Rockefeller Museum of Archaeology It’s easy to skip most of East Jerusalem on your first few trips because there’s so much going on in West Jerusalem, but the Rockefeller Museum is definitely worth a trip. They have some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, displayed differently than the big exhibit in the Israel Museum, and all kinds of cool things that have been dug up in Israel from the Iron Age to the Byzantine Empire.

3. Hike to Shen Ramon in Mitzpe Ramon Mitzpe Ramon is a huge crater in the middle of the Negev (or maybe it’s an erosion cirque—I can never tell the difference). There’s a fairly standard hike that takes you past waterfalls and up ladders (assuming you go during the rainy season), but if you have it in you to try hiking to the craters inside Shen Ramon, the highest peak inside the crater, you’re rewarded with unbelievably beautiful views, and maybe a peak at an ibex or two. 4. Find the Last Supper There are two places in Jerusalem that claim to be the site of the Last Supper. They’re both almost certainly wrong, but fun to visit anyway. First, head to the Assyrian Church of the East in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City. I can’t find a link for it (that’s how hidden it really is), but to find it enter the Old City at the Jaffa Gate, make a right, walk past the church with the red British post box outside. Take the second left and wind around a few little alleyways. There’s a small sign, but probably best to ask someone… At the church they pray in Aramaic, and they’ve got a room in the basement where they claim Jesus had his final piece of matzo.
Or you could head to The Last Supper Room, also called the Coenaculum in the Old City, directly above the Tomb of David. This room can’t possibly be the room where Jesus had his last supper, since it was built in the 12th century, but it could possibly be built on top of the site where Jesus and the disciples chowed down. Anyway, it’s pretty and kind of a fun thing to visit. Last time I was there I kept thinking how funny it would be to have a Jewish wedding in that room. 5. Help Out at Urban Kibbutzim There’s a new trend of young Jewish collectives in urban areas, instead of way out in agricultural spaces. Urban kibbutzim, as they’re called, can be found in Jerusalem, Sderot and Beit Shemesh, and have been meeting with great success in the past few years. In Jerusalem, Kibbutz Reshit has converted the Ir Ganim neighborhood into a safe and beautiful place after years of it being a crime-ridden area with trash on the streets and drugs for sale on the corner. Stop by to see how young Israelis are reinventing the kibbutz movement. (And there are even urban kibbutzim specifically for English-speakers!)
6. Meditate in Elijah’s Cave If you’re up north in Haifa and want something different to do, visit Elijah’s Cave at the bottom of Cape Carmel. Tradition holds that this is where Elijah came to pray before he called down holy fire to defeat the followers of Baal on nearby Mount Carmel. He also hid in the cave after a nasty run in with Ahab and Jezebel. Since Elijah is holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims you’ll find all kinds of groups visiting the cave to pray and meditate. It’s beautiful inside, and a nice place to sit quietly with your thoughts. 7. Make A Speech on the Mount of Beatitudes I’ve never been particularly interested in the Sermon on the Mount, being a Jew and all, but it’s certainly a nice homily, and if you’re feeling profound take a trip up to the Galilee, where you can visit a church that claims to be on the site where Jesus gave his famous sermon. It’s a gorgeous area, regardless of the history, and the church grounds are peaceful and nicely kept. Plus, it’s free.
8. Explore Kibbutz Ramat Rahel You can stay at the kibbutz hotel, or attend a wedding on kibbutz grounds without ever noticing all of the cool things to see at Kibbutz Ramat Rahel. The kibbutz has a crazy history because for many years it was right on the border with Jordan, and has been destroyed and rebuilt three times. Way before that, though, Jezebel had her lair (a huge palace) on the site where the kibbutz is now. Seriously. Most of the archeological ruins have been taken to the Israel Museum, but there’s still stuff to see. Plus, if you hike out into the kibbutz fields you may run into actual shepherds herding their flocks, and you can see a fantastic sculpture—three huge columns with an olive tree planted on top of them, more than twenty feel in the air. There’s a bucket on a pulley so you can water the tree. It’s a gorgeous and easy hike, and the sculpture will take your breath away. Happy Israeli Independence Day!

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