“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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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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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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ONLY in Israel – Top 5

View Across the Dead Sea. Fun Joel Haber. Israel Tour Guide.

A View Over the Dead Sea from Mount Sodom

Frequently, you hear people comment “Only in Israel,” in response to various things they overhear or see here. Often, it is meant to try to capture some of the unique aspects of the character of the Israeli people. But as we all know, these things don’t only happen in Israel, even if they are somewhat demonstrative and capture the spirit of the country.

For that reason, however, I wanted to write a post about the things that you truly can only see in Israel. Nowhere else in the world. Tour guides typically speak in hyperbolic extremes. I know that I am certainly “guilty” of this at times. We’ll tell you how a spot is the highest, largest, newest or furthest south of its kind. But while those extremes may be interesting, and can be mildly significant, they rarely are very important. They are typically little more than gimmicks to maintain interest.

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Israel Mystery Photo #18

Israel Mystery Photo. Tour Guide Fun Joel Haber.

You Either Know This or You Don't. Period.

Firstly, I need to apologize about how long it has been since my last post. Been very busy, but that’s no excuse for neglecting you, my faithful readers. I’ll try to be better.

I’m happy that everyone who responded to the last Israel Mystery Photo correctly identified the location as Beit Shean. It means I accurately identified the photo as an easy one to figure out, and it also means that many of you have been to one of the more significant and impressive archaeological sites in Israel.

The current Mystery Photo will be a bit more difficult to identify. I don’t think anyone will be able to figure it out from context. Rather, I think it is going to be one of those pictures that you’ll identify if you’ve been there, and will have no clue if you haven’t. So don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize it.

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A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Israel Tourism. Tour Guide. Fun Joel Haber. Beit Shean Amphitheater - Vomitorium.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel (taken at Beit Shean amphitheater)

I wanted to update you all about the exam process. For starters, I am proud and excited to announce that I passed the written exam! I got the news on the morning of January 1st, so what a great way to start the New Year! In fact, the test was very straightforward, with no real curve balls (as I wrote previously), and there was a fairly high passing rate.

Additionally, earlier this week I received the appointment for my meeting at the Ministry of Tourism for my oral exam. I will actually be the first in my class (I believe) to present — 9 AM on Thursday January 26, in just over 2 weeks. I feel relatively well-prepared, but I definitely have more work to do in preparation. Both in terms of preparing my guiding, and my itinerary for the day, as well as general prep for the open question section of the oral.

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Top 10 Things to Do in Jerusalem – Part 2

Jerusalem Summer Street Fair. Live Band.

A band playing at one of Jerusalem's Friday afternoon summer street parties.

For the first three entries in this post: Jerusalem Top 10 – Part 1

Continuing the list:

4. Get Some Culture

Jerusalem has a thriving cultural scene, full of great music, art and crafts. And especially through the summer season (which really lasts about half the year here), there are tons of festivals that can satisfy myriad interests.

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Israel Mystery Photo #12

Israel Mystery Photo. Tourism. Tour Guide Joel Haber.

Have you seen this before?

Sorry it has been a few weeks since I’ve posted. I was on break from school this past month and had lots of other work, play and schoolwork to catch up on! On that note, we are in the homestretch with the course now, and are really getting down to brass tacks regarding studying and preparing for the licensing exams. So I will certainly be posting more on this topic in the upcoming weeks. I already have a few posts on this topic lined up in the hopper.

Also, I’ve received feedback from lots of people that these Mystery Photos are simply too hard. So I’ve decided that I will just not even think about how many of my classmates get these right — I expect that they all should get almost all of them right! I will instead be trying to present somewhat easier ones that more of you “regular” readers may know.

I’m not saying they are all going to be super-easy, because part of the enjoyment is in the challenge too. But I will definitely be aiming to make them easier overall. Hope that makes it more fun!

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Israel Mystery Photo #10

Another Israel Mystery Photo. Picture. Tourism. Tourguide. Tour Guide. Joel Haber. Fun Joel.

Look familiar? Many of you have seen this before! Guess where it is!

That time again… Another Israel Mystery Photo. This one is one that I think many of you have probably seen but perhaps didn’t look that closely at. So I look forward to seeing how many of you can recognize it, and also to telling you about it in the next Israel Mystery Photo post!

But what about last week’s mystery photo? Well, many fewer guesses, possibly due to how late I posted it. Benny, however, was correct — it was indeed the covering of Abraham’s tomb in Ma’arat HaMachpelah / The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. I bet Aaron is kicking himself for not recognizing that one; you were so close, dude, and yet didn’t quite get it!

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