Posted by: michelle @ books my kids read | June 23, 2010

vacation in Israel

*NOTE – This is not a political statement, it is a documentation of my trip to Israel. I appreciate that wordpress has sent so many visitors, but please understand it is just a travel log. Please keep that in mind if you want to leave a comment.

I am not a big world traveler. I didn’t have a passport until my husband and I were first dating and he took me to London and Paris as an anniversary gift. I missed out on going to Israel when I was in high school like so many of my friends for a variety of reasons including simply a personal choice and there never seemed to be a right time to go or people to go with. So when my father-in-law proposed a family trip to Israel to dedicate a space in a non-profit for his parents, I was all for it.

Israel is amazing. As a Jew it is an important part of my heritage and culture, but it was fascinating to see it from a variety of religious viewpoints. On some levels, I wish that we had had more time and flexibility to see more of it, but traveling while pregnant is a challenge and I was done. I missed my munchkin (who was happily with her grandparents in LA) and needed to feel that I could just sit and do nothing for a bit.

We started out the trip in Tel Aviv. We couldn’t do much the first day we got there as it was Shabbat and Israel closes down for the sabbath. Kind of cool yet kind of annoying. So we wandered the boardwalk and saw what most people in Tel Aviv do on the sabbath – they go to the beach.

On Sunday we planned to take a bus tour around the city that would allow us to get off and on, but we found out the hard way that the on/off option no longer existed. So instead we walked all over the place – down Dizebgoff street to the Carmel Market, took a short break at the InterContinental Hotel then a quick cab to Jaffa. We had some truly wonderful food and wandered around. After walking around for a while we realized that we wouldn’t be able to go to the Diaspora museum since it closes early on Sundays, but we just used that down time to go back to the hotel and sleep.

The Carmel Market was the first of three markets that we spent time in. They are one of the most fascinating things about Israeli culture. As Americans we are so used to our supermarkets – giant, fully enclosed, highly refrigerated spaces full of processed food. We’ve stopped thinking about what we eat and where it comes from. Now, the Carmel market had a whole section of tacky touristy stuff at the beginning, but the bulk of the market was fresh vegetables, spices, olives and an amazing array of cheese shops. Did I mention that I love cheese?

When we were in Jerusalem, we wandered through the Mehane Yehuda Market. It put the Carmel market to shame. We were there on Friday morning as everyone was getting ready for Shabbat. Fascinating. I loved that there were so many men doing the shopping. There were amazing stands full of the most beautiful challah (my other pic had my husband in it as bread is his favorite thing ever), olives, spices, and the freshest fruits and vegetables. There were butchers and fish mongers there as well, I just didn’t think that was very photographically appealing. I left the market shaking my head at how much more appropriate this style of shopping and cooking was then what we in America are doing.

The final market we saw had a totally different feel. We went into Bethlehem shortly while we were in Jerusalem and saw their market. It was a lot less open and seemed dirtier for some reason. It was also much smaller, but the population in Bethlehem is smaller and spread out in a different way. Mehane Yehuda was very much in the center of town and very close to the central bus station. Everyone seemed to use this market as their main locale, I don’t think that was the case in Bethlehem, as it also didn’t feel like the case in Tel Aviv.

As for the rest of the trip, I’ll break it down into three distinct parts – Jewish sites, Christian sites and Masada/Dead Sea.

As soon as we got to Jerusalem we ventured into the old city and wandered around the Jewish Quarter. I’m not sure what I expected from the old city, but it was fascinating. I guess from the outside you think of it as an area of immense history and religious sites, but the fact of the matter is that it is also a thriving working/living area. Granted, the stores are primarily tourist related, but the fact of the matter is that it is a functional city.

Of course, when you think of Jerusalem, or when a Jew thinks of Jerusalem, we think of the Western Wall. From this perspective you can see the bridge to the Temple Mount and the portion of the Wall that people have access to.

From this perspective, you can see the separation and size difference between the women’s side and the men’s side – there is a brown dividing line just in front of where those trees are. Since the sexes are segregated during prayer time in the Jewish religion, there needs to be an obvious dividing line between the two, but the size difference is immense. Turns out that there is also a section for the men that is underneath the buildings so that when it is raining or extremely hot, they have a covered place to pray. It was extremely difficult to actually spend a moment at the wall rather than a few feet away because every time I went there were just so many women praying. I have to admit, it was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

Tons of Bar Mitzvahs are held at the wall and we were actually there to see one starting. Of course, I was on the women’s side at the time and watching it like all of the other women….standing on a chair.

We also took a fascinating tour of the Western Wall tunnels. You forget that this portion of the wall is only a tiny portion of what once was. The rest still exists, it has just been covered over. On this tour, they truly give you a history of the wall and the area.  We usually think of the 187 foot portion that everyone can easily visualize and that is set aside for prayer as the wall, “however, the above ground portion of the Western Wall stretches for 1,600 feet (488 m), most of which is hidden behind residential structures built along its length.” (thank you wikipedia). Over the years of destruction and rebuilding, much of the wall was covered from view. After the six-day war, they started excavating the tunnels and found a wealth of history. For a well written concise history, check out this wikipedia article.

The picture below is one of the many archways within the tunnel. The stone on the bottom is actually a portion of the western stone, one of the largest building blocks in the world at nearly 45 feet.

The Western Wall is important in Jewish tradition because it is the closest wall to the spot considered to be the holiest of holies when the original temple stood, the actual peak of the the temple mount. Jews all over the world face towards Jerusalem when they pray; Jews in Jerusalem face toward the Western Wall. If you make it to Israel, this is one tour you really should take, and one of the few that requires advanced reservations.

For me, the other main site of Jewish importance was Yad Vashem – The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority. I’ve been to a variety of Holocaust museums and this one definitely outshines the rest (although the one in DC is amazing). I somewhat wish that we had taken the 3 hour tour, but my husband isn’t big on guided tours and we were right near the museum after the dedication ceremony. There was so much information contained inside these walls, it was actually hard to take it all in. I actually had hurt my ankle the day before (actually, my OB thinks I sprained it without falling, oh the joys of pregnancy), so I probably didn’t have my head as together while walking through as I would have liked it to be. Yad Vashem is immense and powerful.

As I said, I was truly fascinated by the Christian sites as well. In some ways more so simply because you have to approach them in a totally different frame of mind. In the Old City we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre “where the New Testament says that Jesus was crucified, and is said to also contain the place where Jesus was buried (the sepulchre).”

When you enter the church, there is a beautiful piece of art depicting the crucifixion, removal and burial of Chris. This is directly behind the Stone of Annointing where he was supposedly placed after being removed from the cross. This stone We saw people rubbing the cross and then rubbing their bodies. As an outsider, I have a hard time accepting the idea that this specific stone is where his body was placed, but it was amazing to see the emotion that it brought out in people.

Also within the church is the Sepulchre itself which houses the tomb. We were actually lucky and when we went in the line to get in wasn’t too long. Others in our group said that the line would have taken an hour to get through – we waited maybe 10 minutes. They have a guard at the entrance to the tomb to enforce time limits on people being in the inner sanctum as it can only hold 4 people at a time.  Obviously, this is something that Christian pilgrimages are made of. From a Jewish perspective, people watching was a big part of how interesting this was.

We also traveled to Bethlehem to see Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. Bethlehem is primarily Muslim and yet, like Jerusalem, it contains one of the holiest Christian sites. The Church itself isn’t all that amazing in my opinion, but the spot where it is believed that Jesus was born is somewhat fascinating.

It is marked by a 14 point silver star. While we were down in the grotto we saw people touching things to the star, kissing the floor, praying to the spot. Turns out that touching any item to this spot blesses it. We found this out when R bought rosaries for friends and we asked the shop keeper about asking a priest to bless them. He said we could get a priest to bless them, but just by merely placing them on the star they would be blessed.

A visit to Bethlehem cannot be complete without mentioning the separation wall. This is a major structure that separates Jerusalem from Bethlehem. The above photo is on the Bethlehem side. Israelis are not allowed into Bethlehem and residents of Bethlehem must have work papers to cross into Jerusalem. For us to get back to Jerusalem we had to go through a checkpoint, then a metal detector which is in a chamber that only allows 3 people to pass through at a time, and a final checkpoint. We had to show our passports. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is intense and this wall really does show just how much hatred there is on both sides.

We took a group trip to Masada and the Dead Sea.

“According to Josephus, a first-century Jewish Roman historian, Herod the Great fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt. In 66 CE, at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War against the Roman Empire, a group of Jewish extremists called the Sicarii overcame the Roman garrison of Masada. After the destruction of the Second Temple, additional members of the Sicarii and their families fled Jerusalem and settled on the mountaintop, using it as a base for harassing the Romans”

There is a world of history at the top of Masada, but most people do the climb more for the experience itself. We wound up with an hour long tour at the top, but as I was nursing a bum ankle and pregnant in insane heat, I didn’t appreciate that part much.

Everyone but my husband and I climbed up the snake path. We took the easy way out and rode up the cable car. But even when you get to the top, there is still a lot of uneven ground and insane walking to do.

“Many of the ancient buildings have been restored from their remains, as have the wall-paintings of Herod’s two main palaces, and the Roman-style bathhouses that he built. The synagogue, storehouses, and houses of the Jewish rebels have also been identified and restored.” To signify what is original and what is restoration, the archeologists and historians have used these black lines to make a distinction. From the black line and below is original. Above the black line is restored to look like the original.

When we finished at Masada (and after our Ahava shopping trip), we all gladly got on the bus and headed to the Dead Sea. We only brought one camera down to the actual mud baths and the sea itself and as soon as I get my hands on those, I’ll update this post.

It was a truly amazing trip and I’ll just leave you with this beautiful view of the Jaffa Gate from our hotel roof.



  1. this is an interesting article, i must tell.

    for years, I just know what was and still happening on the other side of the wall. It is very different. Smokes, tears and not to forget stones.

    FYI, in Bethlehem (Baitul Maqdis), Al Aqsa is one of the earliest mosque in Islamic history. Many Prophets and Islamic leaders were born there too.

    Looks like, we kinda have a similar history to share.

    Gaza Flotilla~

  2. Hi Michelle,
    I like your report about your stay in Israel. But I want to bring to mind, that the wall does not show the hatred on both sides.

    In my understanding the wall has been built by the state of Israel and therefore shows their dislike and mistrust.

    I do acknowledge that there is an immense amount of hate and mistrust among the different groups and religious groups within Israel and the Palestine Territories.

    My greatest wish is that those who are living in this area can live, work and travel as free people, just as you and me as foreigners can do.

    Thank you for your time. All the best from Israel


  3. Karl – I agree. I wish that there could be a peaceful way for both sides to come to some sort of agreement and to coexist. Perhaps hatred is too strong a term – animosity is more of what I was going for. Israel did build the wall after years of suicide bombings.

  4. Wow, I’m so jealous.

    I was ,though ,not always sharing the same opinion on stuff…no biggy.

    I loved the pics, so well documented! Great job!

  5. I’ve been meaning to get to that part of the world, but I haven’t gotten around it it yet. But your article and photos made me feel like I just went! I especially like the symbolic photo with all the flags flying together…if only world peace were that easy!

    The Codger

  6. Great to read about your exciting trip from the WordPress front page! “MAZAL TOV” on making it on freshly pressed!
    Your beautitully written and detailed post brought back such lovely memories of the Israel I came to love when studying there on a “Teach and study program” in 1987-1989.
    I especially appreciate how you handled the Christian sites with such respect even though you obviously don’t hold to the claims of the New Testament and the claims of Christ (as I do very strongly). Thank you for that.
    I LOVE Israel and I will continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem as YWH (God of Israel and the Bible) call us to do.
    Many blessings from an unashamed “Zionist Christian”!

  7. Hi, I enjoyed this journal so much!!
    Since my husband worked in Israel (and he got Israeli citizenship, too), I lived in Israel in 2007-2008.
    Most of your pictures remind me the life there.. and I miss the hot hot country. Especially during the summer time, I know it is difficult to walk around under the strong sunshine (Besides you are pregnant!!).
    I wish I could have travel around everywhere at that time. Now, I hope to visit there again.. your pics and report stimulated me:)) Thank you☆

  8. Israel is at the top of my list of destinations to be visited as I have read so much literature on the country. Your journal is very well worded that has further inspired me to plan my long pending trip to Israel soon.

  9. Your pictures brought memories of my trip in 2006 and made me want to soon go back to such fascinating, intriguing and beautiful place!

  10. WOW! Thank G-d that I FINALLY see a post that puts Israel in a positive light.
    G-d bless you for this.

  11. The above photo is on the Bethlehem side. Israelis are not allowed into Bethlehem and residents of Bethlehem must have work papers to cross into Jerusalem.

    Well, I agree with the wall. People put walls in their yards here in US of A and nobody calls it ‘apartheid..’

  12. Karl & Others –
    The wall does not reflect hatred of both sides.The truth is that after the 2nd intefada started, with weekly suicide bombs in Israel carried out by Palestinians, the wall was erected, causing these terror attacks to go away. Tall fences make good neighbors(?)

    I’m sorry for spoiling folks favorite past time – but you were not living here. In my own neighborhood, a sleepy, unimportant suburb of Tel Aviv, a suicide bomber took the life of a grandmother and her toddler. This was 150m from my house. I’d rather see ugly concrete walls than live in fear, or take back the (however limited) independence granted to those on the other side.

  13. I have to ask.. what kind of camera did you use for those pics? They are fantastic!

  14. It’s a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W330

  15. Itai: The truth is that after the 2nd intefada started, with weekly suicide bombs in Israel carried out by Palestinians, the wall was erected, causing these terror attacks to go away. Tall fences make good neighbors(?)

    I know, I remember VERY well, its just this is a Jew hating world.
    Still, this is a nice post, I encounter so much Israel hate its disgusting.

  16. I really love your pictures. It has always been a dream to visit Israel, but these photographs certainly make me feel as if I was there already. Thank you! In Christ Jesus, ~~~Anna~~~

  17. I love Israel. I’ve visited a lot of countries (14 in the past year) and Israel is the only one that I would want to integrate into, and I’m not even Jewish. People in Tel Aviv were very welcoming and were happy to bring me into their social circles.

  18. You mention that Bethlehem was dirtier for some reason. I was told by others who have gone there that all the Muslim areas are dirtier and that they would not go back to Bethlehem. I am going for the first time in November and can’t wait! =)

  19. My parents just got back from their trip to Israel last week. So interesting learning about so much religious history.

  20. Leaving aside the politics – I liked the photos you took inside the markets.

  21. Thank you for showing us a different side to the Israel we see on the news all the time. I grew up in Africa and it saddens me to see the negative PR Africa gets – if the only images people see of a country are of its problematic areas we will miss out on so much. I love the photos of the market. Real life in a fascinating place. I have never visited Israel although I have travelled a lot but you have given me an unbiased peek.

  22. I’m a Jew, but I found Israel fascinating not because of that, but because of the wealth of history and represenatation of so many diverse cultures throughout history.

  23. Wow! The pictures are wonderful and the details of your trip are very interesting. Thanks for taking the time to put these on the web for us. I am glad you were chosen for the page, because this is educational, factual, and a nice documentary of what you experienced.

  24. Nice article. As a Christian Israel has always held a special place in my heart. As a person of both Jewish and Gentile heritage that is doubly true. As you have mentioned the wall is a sad reminder of the hatred of some for the others. I have yet to be able to go, but I do have a number of Israeli friends. It is my impression that they are saddened by the need for the wall, but do recognize that because of the blind hatred of a few with no respect for innocent life it is necessary.

    Sadly, it is brother hating brother, and I fear that until Messiah comes at the end, the hatred will continue.

  25. Hi Michelle,
    Your article is so nice, it reminds me of my recent trip to Israel. I love this country and spent there such a good time. Thanks! By the way, I also posted some photos in my blog but I write in French (sorry).

  26. This is a great account of your holiday. I appreciated your disclaimer at the top, it is very difficult to remove politics from this beautiful part of the world unfortunately. I loved the pictures, it is a rare treat to see things in ‘real life’ instead of news coverage. Defo inspired a visit. x

  27. This is beautiful article.
    Both Yew and Palestinian are descendent of Abraham. They should read all the Holy Books, Al Quran, Bible and Taurat (Tura?), and think about it.
    I am jealous that I can not go to there (financial and other thing)s, you are lucky !
    I wish you for the best , for your coming baby .
    I copy photo with Holy Mosque (Baitul Maqdis) in it.
    Thank you
    Mohammad Hanafi (

  28. Thanks for the wonderful pictures! It’s been a few years since I was in Israel, and I miss the place.

  29. I love to read the Bible, and would LOVE to visit Israel to walk where Jesus walked and see all the places mentioned.

    Beautiful pictures.

    Like it says in the Psalms, “Peace be upon Israel.”


  30. I’ve always wanted to go to Israel. You make me want to go more!!! Thanks for sharing!!

  31. A fascinating country and a unique land. Your post encapsulates Israel very well, and all looks peaceful – thanks to the IDF?

  32. Great post, photos and descriptions. I’ve thought about visiting Israel recently, but could only think of the Western Wall as one must see. I’m a sucker for markets though and try to find at least one in my travels so I appreciate the recommendations! I’ll definitely check out the Carmel market for the cheese (big fan ofcheese too).


  33. Your blog is amazing and so interesting! I’m going to Israel next month so this has really very useful to me – thanks! (:
    P.S. By the way, how does everybody do away with the words “Just another site”? I just started my own blog and I don’t know how to delete them.

  34. I never thought to go Israel. But now I changed my mind.

  35. Michelle,

    Great job! Very entertaining and informative.

  36. It is a very interesting post and had a lot of details. Even if you are not there, your post transfer the atmosphere from those places.

    Also beautiful pictures and well placed in your story.

    Thank you for let me know your work.

  37. […] *NOTE – This is not a political statement, it is a documentation of my trip to Israel. I appreciate that wordpress has sent so many visitors, but please understand it is just a travel log. Please keep that in mind if you want to leave a comment. I am not a big world traveler. I didn't have a passport until my husband and I were first dating and he took me to London and Paris as an anniversary gift. I missed out on going to Israel when I was in hi … Read More […]

  38. […] *NOTE – This is not a political statement, it is a documentation of my trip to Israel. I appreciate that wordpress has sent so many visitors, but please understand it is just a travel log. Please keep that in mind if you want to leave a comment. I am not a big world traveler. I didn't have a passport until my husband and I were first dating and he took me to London and Paris as an anniversary gift. I missed out on going to Israel when I was in hi … Read More […]

  39. quite nice article and picture source

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  41. Nice post, your pictures truly displays the real beauty of israel.

  42. Really enjoyed reading about your trip and looking at all the beautiful photos. I have never been there myself but surrounded by all that history must be overwhelming!

  43. I’m a Jew, but I found Israel fascinating not because of that, but because of the wealth of history and represenatation of so many diverse cultures throughout history.

  44. any more pics?

  45. Through your article, I also enjoyed the trip and love the pictures. Nice post.

  46. Thank you so much for posting your travel log! I have always had a burning desire to visit/tour Israel, and you have given me a bit more interest through your wonderful photography of your recent adventures there!

  47. place so nice
    but people not
    Israeli against the Muslim world

  48. thans for great sharing

  49. @ bilalamjad2
    So NOT true!
    A blatant lie!
    Have YOU ever even met an Israeli or been to Israel? I bet not. Muslims are taught throughout the Muslim world how “terrible” Israelis are. I have been to MANY countries and Israelis are some of the kindest people I have ever met! The people of Israel are awesome!

  50. By the way,
    It’s “The Muslim world against Israel” NOT “Israel against the Muslim world”! Big difference!

  51. @peonyphoo – glad you enjoyed the blog. as for removing the wordpress tagline, it’s been a while, but I think it’s under general settings.

  52. Thanks for your help! It indeed was under general settings. Hope to read more about your future travels on your blog!

  53. People of the countries are one thing and the governments are another. You can find a beautiful place with nice people also, but the real reasons for a war, you and every people don’t know. Just the darkness can find reason for kill our brothers and sisters of humankind. Don’t see the surface, look in your spirit and you will find the original love that you feel when you were child and yet adult don’t convince you with their hates. Be happy and don’t react to the programation, be free to feel love to everyone in the Universe.

  54. Thank you for sharing your adventure to Israel. I know an Israeli soldier there and will someday, visit him. It will be aone of the most incredible moments I’ll experience, I’m sure to be there. The historic value is priceless.

  55. […] excited when she reads this book, dreaming of the day when she will see the wonders of Israel. When I went in 2010 it was a wonderful trip, but I can’t wait to bring the kids there one day and explore in a […]

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