Israel: Land of Diversity

Hedge arch in Akko Baha'i Gardens. Israel.
Take a seat and enjoy the view in the Baha’i Gardens in Akko, surrounding the Shrine of the Baha’ullah

I just finished guiding an American family for the past two weeks, and we traveled all over Israel. We left out the Negev (south) because it is too hot in the middle of August, but beyond that, we pretty much hit the rest of the country and got at least a taste of all of its diverse regions. I designed the itinerary, and when planning an itinerary of this nature, the main guiding principle is going to be geography, i.e. we visit things that are close together on a single day, and move from region to region in logical sequence. In this case, we basically made a circular route, heading from the airport to Tel Aviv, then up the coast, across the Galilee to the Golan Heights and Kineret region, down the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea, and then to Jerusalem and the Shefelah/Lowlands.

Of course, in designing such a tour, I also aim to present things that show various aspects of what this country has to offer. No one wants to spend two weeks seeing the same things over and over. But it wasn’t until I was on the tour with this family, a few days in, that it hit me just how diverse were the sites we were visiting. I know I’ve discussed Israel’s diversity before, but I was still impressed that we literally visited almost no sites that were redundant with each other.

Belvoir Postern Gate, near Beit Shean Israel.
Climbing up through the postern (secret) gate in the Crusader fortress of Belvoir.
The closest I’d say we got were sites that had a bit of overlap, but were far from identical. For example, we visited both Caesarea and Tzippori National Parks. And while both feature remains of Roman-era cities, they offer quite different stories, and even different archaeological finds in the specifics. Akko/Acre is perhaps the best place in the world to see and understand what a Crusader city was like, but there was a bit of overlap between it and the Crusader part of Caesarea. And we visited the archaeological sites of Tel Hatzor and Tel Dan on back-to-back days, but the family readily realized and agreed that those two sites are quite divergent from each other as well, even though both featured tels.

More often, the sites weren’t redundant, but rather complemented each other, interlocking in a web of joined stories and facts. For example, the first site we visited was the Palmach Museum in Tel Aviv. About halfway through our journey, we slept at Nof Ginnosar on the Kineret/Sea of Galilee, and I happened to notice that the wooded area at the edge of the parking lot was actually where the Palmach originally formed! And then, our very last stop of the two weeks was at the Ayalon Institute, a secret underground bullet-making factory in the years just before the establishment of the State of Israel, which was reinforced with members of the Palmach.

Golan Heights / Capernaum Vista Olive Oil Factory. Israel tourism.
The Golan Heights Olive Oil Factory in Katzrin, Israel.
But in truth, most of the places we visited were completely different from each other. We saw archaeological sites from the Bronze Age, Biblical period, Hellenist, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader, Mamluk, Ottoman and modern periods. Then, on our last day, we got to actually participate in an archaeological excavation! We visited and went in to synagogues, churches and a mosque (as well as visited an interesting Greek Orthodox Monastery). We saw beautiful nature sites, experienced culinary delights, enjoyed the work of talented artists and artisans, saw the sites of important historical battles and wandered around world-class and more intimate museums and memorial sites.

If you’d like a taste of the diversity that we saw on this two-week adventure, here is an album of the photos that I took. And if you’d like me to take you on a tour of diverse sites in Israel, just send me an email to let me know when you’ll be arriving!

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