Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mini Travel Guide: Israel

The is one of many Mini Travel Guides in which we dip our toes into the world of international travel. This guide comes via Rachel who spent six months in Israel.

When I told my friends and family I was going to live in Tel Aviv, Israel, for six months, I got a few different reactions, ranging from, “Do they have running water there?” to, “You should go to these seven nightclubs!” to the most frequent, “Are you going to get bombed?”

Israel might have a bit of a p.r. issue! In reality, Tel Aviv is one of the most carefree cities I’ve ever visited. It’s a beach city! It’s teeming with beautiful people, great nightlife, and delicious food. It’s almost easy to forget you’re in such a controversial country—but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Must go
The Art market - Nachalat Binyamin
This is a popular tourist destination, with good reason. The market takes over two pedestrian streets every Tuesday and Friday. You can browse a massive variety of handmade goods, from jewelry to iron cookware. While there, you must stop by the shuk and get a bag of a dry kiwi to snack on!

For a more historical day, take the short bus ride to Jaffa, which is its own city, although technically part of Tel Aviv proper. Jaffa was an ancient port city, and there are plenty of historical buildings and ruins to visit. Jaffa was also the site of conflict in the 1920s between Palestinians and the Jewish settlers. The bell tower, which stands in the center of the city, still displays the bullet marks it sustained during those days. A visit to Jaffa can show the stark dichotomy of Israel—compelling ancient history mixed with modern struggles.

Must do
Street parties
Tel Aviv is known for epic street parties. Several nights a year, most specifically on festive holidays such as Purim and Laila Levan (White Night, a celebration of Tel Aviv's history), entire neighborhoods are shut down for massive parties. Vendors sell cheap beer on the streets, and people are encouraged to dress up and dance out in the open to celebrate. Tel Aviv is a city that likes to stay out all night, and there is nothing like watching dawn break over the Mediterranean Sea after one of these parties.

Must eat
Hummus may have been my favorite thing to eat in Tel Aviv, but it’s almost impossible to find a bad batch. My only advice is to have a lot of it!

Israeli bagel

A popular Israeli snack is a bagel, which is not the same as an American bagel by any means. Israeli bagels are usually flat and long, kind of like an extended bialy, and they are covered in zatar. Zatar is a spice mix of thyme, majoram and oregano, and is mixed together with sesame seeds and olive oil, making it vibrantly green and flavorful.

Anything at the International Food Fair at the Dizengoff Center
For a lot of variety in one sitting check out the food fair on Thursday and Friday. Dozens of vendors set up their stands with a huge range of cuisines, including traditional Jewish fare, sushi, Lebanese meatballs, barbeque chicken—you get the idea.

Cultural tip
Tel Aviv is a liberal, modern, peaceful oasis in the middle of a turbulent region. It's easy to stay in Tel Aviv and go clubbing every night, speak English every day, and ignore the fact that you're in one of the most contentious countries in the world.

But I think the most meaningful experiences in Israel come from reflecting on both sides of the conflict. If you take a tour of Jaffa with an Israeli tour guide, you will most likely hear only the Israeli perspective. But Israel is an incredibly small country, and if you want to learn more about the Palestinian experience, the West Bank is a 45-minute trip away.

The activist group Breaking the Silence does guided tours of the city of Hebron, led by former Israeli soldiers who served in Hebron, and now speak out against the military’s actions in that city. The tours are informative, and while they are very difficult to digest, I highly recommend it to all travelers to Israel.

Travel on the cheap
Flying in and out of Israel can be inordinately expensive, but once you're there, it's easy! Tel Aviv is a walkable city, and it has a reliable bus and train system. But the best way to go from city to city is by sherut, which is a shared taxi. Sheruts leave from the bus station, but they're the size of vans, so it's cheaper and more convenient than a bus. You split the cost with the other people in your sherut, so the fuller it is, the cheaper the ride.

Have any of your visited Israel?  Any tips to share?


  1. I've never been to a proper Purim festival but I know the story of Esther. Someone reads the story of Esther and when Esther is mentioned the people listening cheer really loud and when the baddie (argh why can I never remember his name!) is mentioned everyone boos!

    We had been studying the story of Esther in our girlies group and Purim fell on my friends birthday so we had a birthday party and celebrated Purim in a way by reading the story and cheering or booing .

  2. I love these travel guides. My travel list keeps getting longer and longer and places like Israel that I assumed would be out of reach now seem possible.

    Thank you! :)

  3. it's really easy to get on a bus and head down to jerusalem for a day, also. old city is beautiful and vibrant and should not be missed.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Israel is high on my list!


  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.