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5 Hidden Gems to Visit in Israel

While not as famous as Masada or the Dead Sea, these destinations were among the most memorable of our latest trip to Israel.

by
Kathy Shaidle

Bio

December 6, 2012 - 7:00 am
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Check out the previous installments in Kathy Shaidle’s Israel Travel Series:

5. Caliber 3

Since 2000, Caliber 3 has trained laymen and professionals (including the IDF) in security and counterterrorism techniques.

This Gush Etzion range is one of the few places in Israel where tourists are permitted to fire guns. That makes its 2-hour courses for tourists incredibly popular, even though they aren’t exactly a walk at the beach:

At our program we combine together the values of Zionism with the excitement and enjoyment of shooting which makes the activity more meaningful. The contact with real soldiers who have experienced anti terrorism fighting means that everything shown and taught is authentic.

Don’t worry: you aren’t expected to run an obstacle course, but there is some running back and forth, yelling, and briskly paced team competition with lots of surprises.

Stick it out and you’ll be rewarded with the chance to fire a Ruger (too heavy!) and an M16.

They’ll even serve you lunch. (This is Israel; food is VERY important.)

Definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

(P.S.: Remember to wear long pants, and leave the flip flops at home. Ask permission about whom and what you can film and photograph.)

Our trainer was Steve Gar (below), an impressive guy originally from South Africa. Besides being a weapons expert, he is studying to be a rabbi and he works with special needs youth (one of whom served as Steve’s range assistant). Sorry, ladies — Gar’s married (to a Toronto girl!).

 

4. St. George’s Cathedral Pilgrim Guesthouse

We stumbled on this literal “hidden gem” on our way to Damascus Gate from our hotel in Jerusalem.

The doors to the courtyard were open, so we strolled through and discovered an exquisite oasis.

This was St. George’s Cathedral, which also runs a pilgrim guesthouse.

The Cathedral was established in 1899, and is Anglican, so everything about it reflects its British heritage, like this Kiplingesque plaque:

The needlepoint kneelers (seen here) are donated from Anglican parishes around the world. In turn, visitors often return to their home countries and start up similar projects for their parish church.

Also, since it’s Church of England, the diocese itself is kind of… liberal.

(For instance, one report says convicted spy Mordechai Vanunu has been staying there since his release from prison.)

So I’m not sure I could cope with that, even in exchange for the chance to stay at such a quaint, peaceful (if spartan) spot that is still close to the heart of Jerusalem.

Something to think about for next time…

P.S.: Not being C. of E., I can’t speak for the Sunday services either way, but one of Ship of Fools’ infamous “Mystery Worshipers” took notes.

3. Palmach Museum

This museum in Tel Aviv honors those who fought for Israel’s independence in its earliest days:

The Palmach was the elite striking force of the “Hagana” – the underground military organization of the Jewish community, its national institutions and the Zionist Movement prior to the establishment of the State of Israel.

The Palmach was founded in May 1941 to help the British defend the country (then Palestine) against the approaching German armies. In the fall of 1942, as the threat of invasion receded, the British authorities ordered the dismantling of the Palmach, which caused it to go underground.

It became a fully mobilized voluntary force consisting of young men and women (…) [who] were stationed in Kibbutzim, where they underwent military training but also worked on the farms for 14 days a month in order to support themselves.

Note that the Palmach symbol, above, shows two sheaves of wheat and a sword, symbolizing this balance between working the land and fighting for its survival.

Along with engaging in guerrilla warfare against the British (and later, the Arabs), the Palmach brought Holocaust survivors to Israel in boats like the famous “Exodus.”

Following the U.N. decision of November 29, 1947 to partition Palestine, Arab armed gangs blocked the roads and besieged Jewish towns, including Jerusalem. At the time 2,200 Palmach fighters were the only force ready to engage in battle, though they were poorly armed. As the War of Independence unfolded, they operated all over the country, liberating Jerusalem and other besieged towns, conquering territories, opening roads and, with the newly organized “Hagana” troops, defeated the invading armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. They fought valiantly but suffered many casualties – over 1,168 dead and hundreds wounded.

Most of the Palmach’s notable attributes and warfare ethics were incorporated into the IDF, such as, a pioneering spirit, a tradition of volunteering and complete obedience to the Jewish legitimate authorities, (…) moral warfare codes, commando tactics, leadership in battle (the famous battle-cry of field commanders “Follow me”). For many consecutive years, most of the high-ranking commanders of the IDF, including 6 Chiefs of Staff and 40 generals, came from the ranks of the Palmach.

 

Our guide Ellie at the Palmach Museum, Tel Aviv

Because tours are guided, they must be booked ahead of time.

The 90 minute tour tells the story of the Palmach through a semi-fictional Band of Brothers-style movie, which plays out as you walk through exhibits that recreate Palmach camps and battlegrounds.

A fellow who took the tour with us, while not one of our party, was an elderly man with his much younger care-giver. The old guy sang Palmach songs and had lots to add about the exhibits. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Hebrew so I missed getting a history lesson first hand.

Overall: Very inspirational and moving.

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2. The Mysterious Room of Adina Plastelina

Adina Plastelina’s jewelry workshop and boutique is one of many ensconced in Old Jaffa’s catacomb of antique shops and artists’ galleries.

However, only her’s has a “mysterious room”:

In the year 2006, we were performing extensive renovation work in the gallery. At that time, the ruins of an ancient limestone structure was revealed at the sand mound level. During a complex engineering effort, headed by Mr.Hassan El-Obidi, a round hollow with 280 cm. in diameter was uncovered.

What was this building used for? Was it for religious or cultish use? Was it part of someone’s home or used for water storage? Who built it and during what period? Were they the ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, Romans or Crusaders?

The Mysterious Room is an archeological site and private museum that showcases the assortment of artifacts we have found there, including seventeen coins from the Roman and Byzantine periods, arrowheads, a signed amphora handle from the Hellenistic period, a ballista ball, a Maltese cross, a collection of animal teeth, twenty Ottoman smoking pipes, and more.

Admission is free, but be warned: it’s easy to fall in love with Adina’s intricately crafted and seductively presented millaflori jewellry.

I walked out with an early Christmas present. (Thanks, Arnie!)

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1. David Ben-Gurion’s House

One of my husband’s blog readers suggested we visit the home of Israel’s first prime minister in Tel Aviv.

We went inside the unprepossessing house on our last day in the city, having walked right past it a number of times.

Since we all had a few hours to kill before our flight back to Canada, afterwards we advised the rest of our group take a look, since the house (on Ben-Gurion’s namesake street) was so close to our hotel.

Everyone came away impressed by the contrast between Ben-Gurion’s modest home and the residences of so many heads of state today — especially those who, like Ben-Gurion, align themselves with “the people.”

No one could accuse Ben-Gurion of hypocrisy in that respect, after touring his spartan house. (After retirement, Ben-Gurion moved to a kibbutz — an even less glamorous residence.)

Displays include the many gifts Ben-Gurion received after he became leader of the brand new state, his library of tens of thousands of books on every topic, plus photos and correspondence, including Einstein’s gracious letter declining the offer to become Israel’s second president after the first’s sudden death.

I was pretty impressed by this gift from soldiers at the front — a menorah fashioned from bullets:

The Ben-Gurion House also proved to be a great place to meet interesting people. We ran into another Canadian (an evangelical Christian Zionist with some… odd notions about the Catholic Church) and an American woman depressed about Obama’s re-election, accompanied by a local man who’d never been to the museum before.

All in all, a low-key, contemplative, humbling experience.

(Next week: My tips on “Money, Food and Unrequited Love.”)

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More from Kathy Shaidle at PJ Lifestyle:

The ‘Me’ in Social Media: The ONLY Online Etiquette Rule You’ll Ever Need

Gravity Doesn’t ‘Card’: Cyber Bullys and the Laws of the Universe

3 Weird Things About the U.S. This Pro-American Canadian Doesn’t Get

(KATHY SHAIDLE is a blogging pioneer who runs FiveFeetOfFury, now in its 14th year. She's been called "one of the great virtuoso polemicists of our time," by MARK STEYN. Her NEW book is Confessions of A Failed Slut (Thought Catalog, 2014).
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