“Show Me Something I Haven’t Seen”

Elah Valley Fortress

Khirbet Qeiyafa – Aerial Photo Looking South (photo from Kh. Qeiyafa Archaeological Project)

While many of my tourists are visiting Israel for their first time, I also get the privilege to guide some groups who have visited Israel many times before. This means that most of the sites that I commonly bring tourists to are not of interest to these groups since they have already visited there in the past. They often ask me to show them something new, or at least new for them. And I take this request seriously. Plus I enjoy the challenge!

I of course try to tailor every tour I guide to the individual desires of the specific tourists. But that customized approach still usually draws from a selection of prominent and important sites. So the bulk of my tours visit places that I guide at frequently.

This past week, however, I had the pleasure of guiding two small groups who had both been here many times. This gave me the opportunity to take them to some places I guide at less frequently, some of which I had been to but never had guided before. Here are few of those places…

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Jerusalem: A Walk Through Christian History

St. Mark's Church

The apse of St. Mark’s Syriac Church, a small and very old church in Jerusalem’s Old City

Recently, I have been preparing my next Jerusalem: Meet Jerusalem walking tour, which will focus on Christian Jerusalem for Non-Christians. In the process I have come to explore and discover many of Jerusalem’s churches. Obviously, Jerusalem is a very holy city to Christianity, and there are innumerable churches here, many of them within the approximately one square kilometer surrounded by the Old City walls.

But as I began to explore more, and uncovered some of the lesser known churches here, I became endlessly fascinated by the variety of Christian sects. There are tens of different denominations, split into a number of larger branches of Christianity, many of which are fairly unknown to most people — Christians and non-Christians alike! And of those many sects, tons of them have churches in Jerusalem, including a number of those less known denominations.

I began to organize them all for myself, grouping them into related branches and placing them in the sequence of their various splits from each other. By looking at them this way, I could see the very development of Christianity itself, reflected in the distinctive churches in my city. I soon realized that walking through Jerusalem’s Old City is like a walk through a living museum of Christian history.

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Jerusalem, Meet Jerusalem: Rehavia

International Style building in Rehavia, now a branch of Bank Leumi

The house of Dr. Paul Bonem, built in the International style by Leopold Krakauer in 1935

My first two Jerusalem, Meet Jerusalem walking tours focused on the early expansion of Jerusalem outside the walls of the Old City. Thus, I focused first on the first three neighborhoods built outside the walls in the mid 1800s. Then we moved on to the collection of micro-neighborhoods known as Nahalaot, a step towards the New City’s solidification overall.

The third tour in the series focuses on Rehavia, a neighborhood right smack in the heart of Jerusalem. In many ways, Rehavia epitomizes Jerusalem’s modernization. Built in the 1920s and 1930s, Rehavia was planned as a Garden Neighborhood, a reaction to urbanization that was first created in Europe. From its origins and still until today, Rehavia is a neighborhood populated by leaders in politics, culture and academia.

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A Photographic Tour of Tel Aviv

Pagoda House with convex mirror

A view of Tel Aviv’s famous “Pagoda House”

I find niche tours to be interesting, and it is for that reason that I offer a few specialty tours of my own. For example, being a big foodie, and knowing many of the unique food-related sites in this country, I love giving culinary tours. But while I have been taking photos virtually my whole life, and have even been paid for this work a bit, I would not say that I am an expert in the field of photography. I have more knowledge and skill than many, but not nearly as much as a true professional.

Thus, while I’d heard of people offering photography tours before, I never really offered one of my own. I’m sure I could do a decent job, but some things are better left to others. Thus, when I heard about Rinat Halon‘s photography tour in Tel Aviv, I decided to join her to see what it was all about.

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Visiting the Israeli Air Force Museum

Dark blue and white fighter jet

Israeli-made Kfir, based on the French Mirage 5

Ahead of next week’s Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) holidays, I thought a post about the Israeli Air Force Museum would be appropriate. The Air Force Museum is located at Hatzerim Air Force Base, just southwest of the Negev city of Beersheva.

Though many people know about and visit the tank museum at Latrun, with its array of tanks from around the world, fewer people are aware of this museum with its collection of over 150 airplanes from Israel’s aviation history. Perhaps this is due to its more remote location, but a visit is well worth your time if the subject interests you, and it is a particularly good place for kids to learn a significant aspect of Israel’s history.

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Exploring Herod’s Tomb

Geometric tiled floor and stone tub.

Opus Sectile tiled floor and Herod’s private bathtub. (Photo courtesy of Howie Osterer)

Herod the Great is a tour guide’s dream. He is such a colorful and complex character that he offers as many good stories as amazing sites to marvel at. He was an unparalleled builder, a bloodthirsty madman who killed many members of his own family, an egotist with major insecurities, a paranoid who suspected both Rome and the Jews of hatred, a brilliant businessman, and a tenacious ruler, to name just a few of his more significant aspects.

Generally, tour guides explore different aspects of King Herod’s character via different sites. But it’s difficult to visit a single site that fully captures his complexity. Until now, that is. The Israel Museum in Jerusalem has just opened a special exhibit entitled Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey. And while I can’t say that it covers all sides of Herod’s life, it does a great job of building a multifaceted portrait of the king.

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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.

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Jerusalem, Meet Jerusalem: Nahalaot

Nahalaot Street, Jerusalem

Nahalaot, Jerusalem

This coming Friday, July 20, I will be leading the next in my continuing series of Jerusalem walking tours — Jerusalem, Meet Jerusalem. Following logically from my prior tour of the first three Jewish neighborhoods built outside the walls of the Old City (Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Machane Yisrael and Nachalat Shiva), I am now giving a tour of one of the more unique neighborhoods in Jerusalem: Nahalaot. Nahalot finds it origins just a few years after those earliest neighborhoods, and expands on the settlement patterns those first three neighborhoods established.

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Walking in a Byzantine-Era Synagogue

Bimah in Umm el-Kanatir Synagogue. Golan Heights. Israel.

The Bimah at the front of the Umm el-Kanatir Synagogue

Almost anyone who has traveled throughout the north of Israel, especially if you have gone with a tour guide who took you to places you might not have visited on your own, has seen the ruins of Byzantine-era synagogues. There are many, with some of the more famous or impressive ones found at Bar’am, Tiberias and Tzippori. But on a trip to the Golan Heights this past week, I had the pleasure of revisiting a very exciting Byzantine synagogue that I had first seen almost exactly a year ago.

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New Walking Tour Series: Jerusalem, Meet Jerusalem

An early drawing of Mishkenot Shaananim, Jerusalem, Israel.

Mishkenot Sha'ananim, the first neighborhood built outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, in a 19th Century engraving (late 1860s?)

For some time now I have wanted to apply my knowledge as a licensed tour guide in Israel to help my friends and acquaintances learn more about their country. Obviously, the bulk of my work will be with incoming tourists, but most Israeli residents and citizens love to explore their own country almost as much as foreign, visiting tourists. So one of the things I am beginning to do is run a series of short walking tours in different neighborhoods of Jerusalem, the city I live in and love.

I am entitling the series “Jerusalem, Meet Jerusalem” because it is largely designed to help Jerusalemites better get to know the city they live in. But of course these Jerusalem walking tours are also open to tourists and Israelis from other cities!

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