A Walking Tour on Yom Yerushalayim

MMY girls and Fun Joel, Israel Tour Guide at the Haas Promenade / Tayelet

Me and the overseas students from MMY Seminary at the Haas Promenade / Tayelet

As many of you know, today is the 45th Yom Yerushalayim / Jerusalem Day, the holiday that celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 during the Six Day War. In celebration, I was asked to give a tour to a group of overseas students in a gap year program here in Jerusalem. They are studying for the year at the MMY Girls’ Seminary, and they are located in my neighborhood. So the tour was supposed to both focus on the subject of Yom Yerushalayim, but also to tell them more about the neighborhood they’ve spent the year in.

I’ll briefly review the whole tour, but I want to really focus on our last stop, at the Tayelet, or Haas Promenade.

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A Tour of Wineries in Eretz Binyamin / Samaria

Tanya Winery vinyeards. Ofra. Fun Joel Israel Tour Guide.

The vineyards of Tanya Winery in Ofra

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting five different wineries with some other tour guides and friends. The wineries were all located in the region of Eretz Binyamin — the area that was designated in the Bible for the tribe of Benjamin. Today it is part of the region known as Samaria, and there are at least 7 or 8 wineries in this small part of the hill country, a mere 25 miles or so apart. But before I get into the wineries themselves, I want to talk briefly about Israeli wines overall.

I love the story of the wine industry in Israel. Clearly one of the oldest and most famous industries in the land, winemaking was always an important identifying feature of Israel. Images, for example, of the spies sent by Moses to explore the land of Canaan, and their reports of giant grape clusters spring to mind. In fact, that very image is the logo of both Israel’s Ministry of Tourism and the largest wine producer in the country — Carmel Wineries.

However, with the arrival of Muslim rule, which lasted for about 1100 of the 1300 years prior to the 20th Century, Israeli wines virtually disappeared. Since Muslims are prohibited from drinking wine, virtually all Israeli wine production ceased, with perhaps a minor resurgence during the 200-year period of Crusader rule in the land (1099-1291, with periods of Muslim rule inside that time frame as well).

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A Tour of Crusader Caesarea

Moat of Crusader City of Caesarea

The moat and walls of Caesarea's Crusader-era city.

When most people visit Caesarea, the beautiful Israeli coastal city between Netanya and Haifa, they focus on its history and archaeology in the Herodian (early Roman) and Byzantine periods. While most visitors walk right through the heart of the Crusader era city, they barely pay any attention to it. But the truth is that Caesarea has some of the best remains in Israel through which to gain an understanding of the architecture of the late Crusades, and of the impact that this slice of history had on the land of Israel.

I remember the first time I visited Caesarea (a few years ago), I started as most people do at the southern end of the National Park, near the Roman-era Theater. We toured through most of the Roman and Byzantine areas, and then approached a large, walled-in area. As we passed through the wall, I saw a large open space with lots of green grass. Inside of these walls I also found a number of stores and restaurants, which probably contributes to the area being overlooked within the archaeology at Caesarea. True, the walls are virtually impossible to miss. But when the inside has a lot of modern stores and eateries, it is easy to overlook the history, despite the benefits of this mix.

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Environmental Tour of the Negev

BrightSource Solar Array

Heliostat array at BrightSource's Rotem test facility

I took a friend down to the Negev desert last week for a tour focused on various environmental topics. We visited sites and discussed issues of CleanTech/Green energy, water usage, desert agriculture, ecology, etc. In addition to being interesting for me, I see it as another niche in which I may work in the future (a number of people expressed an interest in a tour like this once I described it). I designed the tour almost as a “mission,” mixing traditional site visits, meeting with experts and tours of business sites.

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Sample 1-Day Jerusalem Itinerary

The Catholicon (Greek Orthodox sanctuary) of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

One of the fun things that I do as I prepare to become a tour guide in Israel is practice! It helps me learn to plan a tour, make it flow seamlessly and learn such things as timing, reading the audience, use of visual aids and organization of material. So it is really a very necessary aspect that, while not an official part of my tour guide studies, I still take quite seriously.

A few weeks ago, I took two women around for a day-long walking tour of the Old City of Jerusalem (mostly). They were two friends, one of whom was Jewish and one of whom was Christian, though neither was particularly religious. The Christian was here on her first trip to Israel, while the Jewish woman lives here, though not in Jerusalem. My goal for the day was to expose them to the sheer wealth of history that fills Jerusalem, as well as show them the diverse cultures and religions that are found here. Ultimately, I wanted them to see what a beautiful, complex and historic city I live in. I thought it might be interesting and useful to describe the itinerary we had for the day.

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Tour: Beit Guvrin-Maresha

The Columbarium Cave at Maresha

There are many sites in Israel that I still need to visit. Numerous places I’ve still not yet been to, and plenty of others that I haven’t seen in many, many years. So I can’t yet say what my “favorite” site in this country is.

However, there is one site that I’ve been to twice in the past year (once on a private tour, and then a couple of weeks ago with my course) that has quickly become one of my favorite sites. Beit Guvrin-Maresha is a great site to visit for so many reasons.

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Tour: The Mysteries of Ein Gedi Archaeology

The beautiful Dead Sea oasis of Ein Gedi. (Seen from Nahal Arugot.)

(Catching up on writing about the siyurim/tours we’ve had so far, this one is from a little over a month ago.)

When most people think of Ein Gedi, they think of a beautiful oasis sandwiched between the cliffs at the end of the Judean Desert and the highly saline Dead Sea, the lowest place on Earth at 422 meters (1385 feet) below sea level. Popular images that spring to mind related to this oasis include gorgeous waterfalls, colorful flowers and delicate ibex bounding along sharp cliffs. Others might think of the date crops that were so closely connected with this area.

But what is somewhat less prominent, but still highly significant, is the wealth of interesting (and at times perplexing) archaeological finds within the Ein Gedi area. I wanted to highlight a couple of the archaeological sites that you might want to see on your next trip to the Ein Gedi park.

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Walking Through First Temple-Era Jerusalem

A piece of the wall that surrounded Jerusalem in the time of King Hezekiah.

Our siyur (tour) this past Tuesday started in my backyard, almost literally. We met at the Tayelet / Haas Promenade, a mere 5-minute walk from my apartment in beautiful Arnona, Jerusalem. This scenic outlook offers an excellent spot to view the geography of ancient Jerusalem. From there, we went to a semi-hidden and little known spot called Ketef Hinnom (Shoulder of Hinnom, a valley in Jerusalem), then hiked through Gei Ben-Hinnom / the Hinnom Valley, and came out at the bottom of Ir David / City of David. We spent the rest of the day winding our way up, down and back up again inside this complex and interesting archaeological site.

I am not going to go into too much detail about Ir David, especially since I already discussed it a bit in this post here, but I did want to discuss a few interesting points from throughout the day. I also want to discuss two recent news stories that relate to things we learned about.

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Tour: “In the Footsteps of David and Shimshon”

Overlooking the Shefela (Lowlands) from Beit Meir on a cloudy day.

We had our first siyur (tour) this past Tuesday. Entitled “In the Footsteps of David and Shimshon (Samson),” it really encompassed a few different subjects that all related to the area around the city of Beit Shemesh. We also spent some time at the beginning of the day in moshav Beit Meir, at the very end tip of one of the ridges of the Judean Hills. This gave us the chance to get a good overview of the geography of the land (though it would have been a much better view if the day was sunnier, rather than alternately cloudy and rainy, with only brief respites of sunshine).

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