Kathy Shaidle's Guide For Your First Visit to Israel

A beach in Tel Aviv, image courtesy shutterstock.

Editor’s Note: With PJ Media’s co-founder Roger L. Simon blogging from Israel this past week, now is a good time to think about a first trip to Israel for those who have not yet visited. This article from Kathy Shaidle first appeared as four pieces originally published November 23December 13, 2012.  – DS

5 Places to Visit in Israel

Click here for the basics.

5 Hidden Gems to Visit in Israel

Click here for some more advanced destinations.

Food, Manners and Unrequited Love: What Every Visitor to Israel Needs to Know

And click here for Kathy’s conclusion with some important tips.

5 Places to Visit in Israel

Folks who say visiting Israel is like traveling back in time don’t know the half of it.

Say: Do you find yourself missing the 1970s — even though, like me, you vowed you never would?

That is: Do you miss litter, graffiti, off-leash dogs, free-range cats, smoking on the beach, 13 TV channels, no wheelchair ramps — plus polyester everything?

Because if so, Israel is the 70s with cellphones! You’ll love it! Heck, the same war’s still going on!

Seriously: This shiksa just got back from her second trip to Israel — not a moment too soon, from the looks of things — and I’m here with the first of a series of articles that will go from macro to micro.

PJMedia’s own Barry Rubin literally wrote the book on Israel. I read it before I left and recommend it highly. But he’s a Jew who has lived there for years. I’m writing as a gentile two-time visitor.

To that end, I’ll start off with an overviews of major cities and regions in Israel, then drill down to cover specific attractions; define words that don’t mean what you (or more accurately, your dorky grad student nephew) think they mean (i.e., “check point,” “settlement,” “refugee camp”); then offer tips on food, language, manners and more.

1. Jerusalem

Spend at least one Friday there, to experience the controlled frenzy as this holiest city in Judaism shuts down for Shabbat, starting around noon.

(Being a gentile, I never find these “days of rest” very restful.)

Book the sabbath dinner at your hotel well in advance. Only one elevator may be in service, and will stop at every floor.

In other words, think ahead about your food, transportation, and other necessities for the next 24 hours.

At the Kotel (live web cam!), modest dress is not just a suggestion. No-nonsense ladies shove raggedy shawls — NOT tallitot (that would be illegal) — and/or long, ugly aprons at visiting females showing too much cleavage or leg (or even arm).

I hate it, but I wear a long “wife-of-the-cult-leader” skirt and carry a pashmina at all times in Jerusalem anyway, and keep a kippah in my pack for my husband. When you travel with Jewish groups, as I do, spontaneous multiple visits to the Kotel are pretty much to be expected; why look like a brainless tourist with a smelly used cloth around your shoulders?

(And yes, the dress code for men is much more relaxed. Sorry.)

At the Wall, you’ll likely see bar mitzvah and wedding parties from all over the world, singing local schoolchildren, maybe newly sworn-in Israeli soldiers — it’s a Jewish Fellini movie, but reverent.

In contrast, the Christian sites in Jerusalem (and in the entire country — I’m looking at you, “Spaceship Jesus”) are mostly depressing, shabby, and grim. Too much… beige. Capernaum in particular made me think of that WW2 parody song, “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On the Farm, After They’ve Seen the Farm?” What can I say? I’m Catholic. I need some bling.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre alone is enough to turn anyone atheist, and not just for aesthetic reasons. For centuries, the Arab family who lives across the way have been the keepers of the keys to the Church, because the warring Christian factions who run different bits of the building can’t agree on which of them should get to keep it.

And then there’s the stupid ladder thing.

Oh, and we learned on this trip that some Protestants think this is where Jesus was really buried. So that’s great.

Anyhow, Saturday in Jerusalem isn’t 100% “dead,” since Muslims have the run of the place for the day and keep their stores/attractions open and their taxis on the roads. We saw one guy riding a grey horse, bareback, at a canter, down HaPalmach.

Plan at least two visits to the Cardo and the Four Quarters. There’s a lot to see, eat and buy. However, if you aren’t Muslim, the IDF won’t let you near the Temple Mount area on Saturday; this is the closest we got to the al-Aqsa Mosque.

If you do make it to that location, remember that Bibles are forbidden there, and a Jewish politician (who we met on this trip) was arrested for “moving his lips” (i.e., praying) at this (cough) “Muslim” site.

The first time we went to Jerusalem, we stayed in a newish boutique hotel in the funky new Nahalat Shiva neighborhood, where hip cafes, late night hookah bars, art galleries and Judaica shops (including ones selling Superman and Simpsons kippotbut for how long?) are seamlessly nestled among ancient alcoves, alleys and courtyards. This charming combination of old and new shouldn’t “work” anywhere near as well as it does. We didn’t make it there this time around, and I regret it.

2. Tel Aviv and Old Jaffa

“There’s Israel, and then there’s Tel Aviv,” our first cab driver in that city explained wistfully, echoing the old “we pray in Jerusalem but party in Tel Aviv” line.

Think “red state, blue state.”

Now, you may have heard that Tel Aviv is really, really gay.

So having lived in Toronto’s Boystown for over a decade, I expected rainbow flags, well-dressed dogs, public hand holding and, given the time of year we were visiting, remnants of Gay Christmas.

In New York City, you know you’re in Chelsea because the number of florists and pet food stores suddenly explodes.

However, the “gayness” of Tel Aviv flew way below even my seasoned straight girl gaydar, except for the almost comical abundance of hair salons on Ben Yehuda Street.

Locals might have been wondering why we found that so hilarious.

Not so funny: there are almost as many storefront real estate agencies on Ben Yehuda as hair benders. Many of the (multimillion dollar) listings in the windows were written in French. Apparently, France’s Jews are figuring out they’d best find new places to live.


Speaking of real estate:

The city is in flux, as many of Tel Aviv’s old buildings are crumbling. Most of these are dwarfed by hoardings advertising pricey hotels and apartment buildings “coming soon.” If we go back in a couple of years, the place will look very different in some respects, but not in one in particular:

That is, I’m not a beach person, but there’s no point in staying anywhere in Tel Aviv that isn’t on the booming main beachfront hotel/luxury residential drag, Hayarkon Street.

(Not incidentally, that’s the same street the U.S. Embassy is on, which makes it handy case of emergencies, or just in case you want to “woot!” when the cab drives past it.)

Also on Hayarkon Stret. This is known locally as “the nutty building.

But unlike most of the buildings in Tel Aviv, its style is Gaudi. And while in Jerusalem, it’s the law that all new buildings have to be built from that distinctive Jerusalem stone, Tel Aviv is more or less all Bauhaus. It’s not the law or anything. It’s just that the city is pretty new and as Grandpa Simpson would put it, “It was the style at the time.”

And there’s no denying that the cloud-like whiteness and illusion of airiness suit this hot modern city on the shores of the Mediterranean, one that Jews a century ago could have only dreamed of. You can take a tour about the city’s Bauhaus heritage and everything.

We walked back and forth, again and again, to Old Jaffa, the picturesque ancient port that Arabs complain they can no longer afford to live in, now that it’s becoming a gentrified yuppie/hipster residential area in addition to a longtime tourist destination:

Everybody goes to the Shuk HaCarmel, but again, the food/tacky knockoff clothing section is nuthouse on Fridays. If you hate loud noises, strange smells, and other human beings (especially rude ones), pick a quieter day.

However, the separate, more modern “arts and crafts” section of the market is less insane, as well as less tacky. I bought an adorable little painting of men praying at the Kotel from a local folk artist for the equivalent of US$20. (A shekel is 25 cents — just multiply everything by four to get your financial bearings.) Look for handcrafted jewelry, art, and accessories you won’t find back home.

Gay or not, my husband told another guy in our party that “Tel Aviv is great for girl watching.” I hadn’t noticed him doing said girl watching even once during our trip — which is why it is ok for him do it, and one reason we married each other in the first place.

3. Masada

Each time I’ve visited Israel, we’ve combined a morning visit to Masada with an afternoon at a Dead Sea hotel spa, like the Lot or the Hod, which have private beaches and buffet luncheons.

First, some background on Masada:

Masada is a symbol of the ancient Jewish kingdom of Israel, of its violent destruction in the later 1st century CE, and of the subsequent Diaspora. The palace of Herod the Great at Masada is an outstanding example of a luxurious villa of the early Roman Empire, while the camps and other fortifications that encircle the hill constitute the finest and most complete Roman siege works to have survived to the present day. (…)

With the end of the Herodian dynasty in 6 BCE Judaea came under direct Roman rule, and a small garrison was installed at Masada. At the beginning of the Jewish Revolt in 66 a group of Zealots led by Menahem, one of the Jewish leaders, surprised and slaughtered the garrison. The Zealots held Masada throughout the revolt, and many Jews settled there, particularly after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple by Titus in 70. They occupied some of the Herodian palace buildings, and added more modest structures of their own, such as a synagogue, a ritual bath, and small houses.

Two years later Flavius Silva, the Roman Governor, decided to eliminate this last remaining centre of Jewish resistance. He sent the X Legion and a number of auxiliary units there, with many prisoners of war for manual duties. The Jews, led by Eleazar Ben Yair, prepared for a long siege as the Romans and their prisoners built camps and a long siege wall (circumvallation) at the base of the hill. On a rocky site near the western approach to Masada they constructed a massive ramp of stones and rammed earth. A giant siege tower with a battering ram was constructed and moved laboriously up the completed ramp. It succeeded in breaching the wall of the fortress in 73, allowing the Roman soldiers to enter.

The Zealots defended stoutly, but there was no hope of resisting the Roman attack for long. Josephus reports that Ben Yair talked to the 960 men, women, and children who survived, telling them that “a glorious death is preferable to a life of infamy.” All but two took their own lives on 2 May 73.

Masada is now a potent symbol of Jewish resistance to tyranny, but that wasn’t always the case.

It wasn’t until the 1920s that a poem about the siege reintroduced the story to the world. (That poem is said to have inspired the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.)

Today, Masada is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Israel.

One of our group bravely walked up the side of the mountain — in flipflops! — but most visitors elect to take the cable car to the top.

You’ll be rewarded with spectacular views and a stirring history lesson.

Bonus: the gift shop is amazing and they’ve just added a shiny new “food court.” (However, do NOT buy the AHAVA Dead Sea beauty products at Masada — there’s an AHAVA discount store in Eilat.)

Wear a hat and sunscreen, and carry lots of water. (I bought a lumbar pack with two water bottle holders for this trip.)

4. The Dead Sea

I’m not a beach person, so no one was more surprised than I was when I announced mid-way through my first visit to the Dead Sea: “I could move here.”

It sounds odd to describe the atmosphere at the literal lowest point on earth — a desert oasis most famous for a body of water so salty that nothing can live in it — as “refreshing.” Unless you’ve been there, that is.

The elements unique to the Dead Sea combine to make any visit both relaxing and invigorating.

The water in the Dead Sea is “warm, soothing, super salty  – some ten times saltier than sea water, and rich in chloride salts of magnesium, sodium, potassium, bromine and several other” minerals. (Bromine supposedly has a calming effect, and “is found in air around the Dead Sea in concentrations 20 times greater than anywhere else on earth.”)

You don’t swim in the Dead Sea, you float. Remember:

  • DO NOT get any water in your mouth or eyes
  • Any open cuts will sting. Ladies, don’t shave your legs the morning you visit.
  • Don’t stay in the water more than 20 minutes at a time, and rinse off thoroughly after each dip

Because the area lies below sea level, the sun shines there through an extra atmospheric layer that acts as a natural “sunscreen.” This layer weakens harmful UV-B rays and lets you enjoy the sunshine longer, safely: ideal for soaking up massive doses of Vitamin D. Barometric pressure is high — meaning more oxygen in the air — and so is the average humidity.

5. Eilat

We were in Eilat the morning the election results came in, which made this sign at each end of the boardwalk bridge even funnier.

I was grateful to be far away from my desk, and surrounded by plenty of diversions that day.

One of our group marveled that when he’d last visited forty years earlier, only two hotels operated in Eilat. Today, this southernmost resort spot on the Red Sea boasts great beaches along the warm Red Sea, a range of places to stay, a lively boardwalk, snorkeling along the 1,200 meter coral reef, swimming with dolphins, excursions to Petra in Jordan — and even world-renowned birdwatching.

Decades ago, during the “Glaznost Aliyah,” thousands of Russians escaped to Israel from the Soviet Union with the clothes on their backs — and from the looks of it, they haven’t changed them since. Eilat was full of Russian-descent tourists during our visit, and they are, alas, easy to spot, especially on the beach, where they shed their mismatched polyester casual wear and plod around in very tiny bathing suits. I was delighted to find myself the thinnest middle aged woman on the shore.

Eilat is a VAT-free (duty free) town. The good news: there are lots of fashion outlet stores. The bad news: many of the mid-market designer labels, like Golf and Fox, will be unknown to non-Israelis. (Don’t be alarmed by all the guys sporting t-shirts reading “CASTRO”; that’s just one of the country’s top casual clothing labels.)

You’ll find those outlet stores on the tonier end of the boardwalk, along with lots of beachfront restaurants. The Eilat boardwalk also features a low-end section across the bridge (but for how long?) boasting tacky casual wear, souvenirs, ice cream and juice vendors — you’ll fall in love with the fresh pomegranate juice and limonana

This was my first visit to Eilat and I can’t wait to go back.


Next: 5 Hidden Gems to Visit in Israel

5 Hidden Gems to Visit in Israel

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.

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!)

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: Food, Manners and Unrequited Love: What Every Visitor to Israel Needs to Know

Food, Manners and Unrequited Love: What Every Visitor to Israel Needs to Know

Now, onto some helpful hints and observations about everyday cultural cornerstones like food, language and manners.

PLUS: a crash course on words — like “settlement,” “refugee camp” and “checkpoint” — that don’t mean what you think they mean, at least in Israel.


The Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years because they couldn’t decide where to eat.

Food is a very big deal in Jewish culture, so it’s not surprising that you can eat well in Israel, and as cheaply or as expensively as you wish or can afford.

Contrary to what you may think, not all restaurants there are kosher. 

Many people believe that kosher food, wherever it is served, is healthier and cleaner. I for one do get this sensation when I’m in Israel, that somehow the food is fresher and more carefully handled. When it comes to kosher food, a bug on your lettuce isn’t just a faux pas — it’s a serious violation of the law.

Every hotel offers a breakfast buffet. It’s an Israeli institution, and differs little from a similar spread in North America except for the addition of chilled fish like herring, and the absence of bacon and ham.

In fact, the presence of dairy at these buffets means that no meat — pork or otherwise — will be on the menu. Milk and meat are not combined because — to put it simplistically — milk represents life and meat represents death. (So while there are McDonald’s in Israel, they don’t serve cheeseburgers. Coffeemate was invented so that Jews could enjoy “cream” in their coffee while eating, say, a steak.)

One dish that’s standard fare in Israel, and that we fell in love with, is shakshuka. “Dr. Shakshuka’s” restaurant was closed the day we visited Jaffa, which is too bad because it is world famous:

We went to the charming Nelly’s Kitchen instead, and really enjoyed it.

In the evening, across Israel, a “switch” takes place in restaurants and dining rooms: meat is offered but dairy is not. The types of cutlery at your table setting will be different, too.

Expect your lunch or dinner order to come with bountiful plates of appetizers like humus and salad. THEN your main meal arrives. Keep this in mind when ordering (and eating.)

Since I’m from Toronto, I’m familiar with the cuisine of most cultures, and have long been a falafel fanatic. The falafel is the “hamburger” of Israel, so be sure to try one. If you’re a bland “meat and potatoes” person, this and other Israeli dishes may be an acquired taste.

Starbucks isn’t there yet, but the Israeli equivalent — Aroma — is arguably superior anyhow. You get a little piece of dark chocolate with your cup of coffee, and their sandwiches are exceptional.

In Jerusalem’s Old City, treat yourself to a poppy seed bun or other fresh pastry sold by the Muslim merchants who push their wares along on old wooden carts.

Israelis love their baked goods and hard candies, too — those are for sale everywhere, especially in “shuks” or markets:


In my experience, most Israels “understand” English but their fluency is lopsided:

Either they understand you but struggle to reply, or can speak English well but have a hard time understanding you.

If you hail from a big North American city, you already know the drill: Be patient. Speak slowly and clearly. Don’t expect strangers to understand your cultural references or jokes.

Speaking of which: The Israeli sense of humor tends toward the dry and straightfaced, and will leave some travelers puzzled or even offended.

For instance, when I mentioned to a hotel front desk clerk that I couldn’t understand a recorded message on my room phone because I don’t speak Hebrew, he shot back, “Why not? How dare you?”

He was joking around, but not everybody will respond well to that kind of ribbing.

Israeli’s are also notoriously blunt to the point of rudeness. Customer service isn’t as cloying and obsequious as you may be used to, especially if you live in the Southern or Midwestern United States.

“Civility is not a high priority,” as Barry Rubin delicately phrases it in his book Israel: An Introduction:

With no history of an oppressed peasantry or working class that “knew its place,” Israelis are notoriously obstinate, egalitarian, and insistent on their personal rights. The lack of a well-developed system of etiquette derives from the lack of a subservient or class conscious past. (…)

Israeli society’s pioneer ethos, familiar aspect, and contempt for snobbishness or class distinction is reflected in its high levels of informality. With the exception of the Haredim, most Israelis wear casual clothing. The ubiquitous Western suit and tie stay in the closet, even for weddings and funerals. (…) Punctuality is not a high priority. It is not unusual for events and even television programming to start later than scheduled.

Typical “Palestinian” “hovel” on the “West Bank.” (Credit: BlazingCatFur)


Jewish “settlers” live on “disputed” territory in varying levels of comfort. We drove through Ariel, which looks no different than a typical Western suburb; it even has its own university.

Since there are virtually no houses in Tel Aviv, just apartments, some Israelis live in “settlements” like Ariel and commute elsewhere to work. The cost of living in a “settlement” like Ariel is (according to our guide) about 75% less.

To get in and out of Ariel, we drove through one of those dreaded “checkpoints.” This consisted of an armed guy in a booth, waving us through. Wooo, scary!

In contrast, I have never crossed the U.S./Canadian border without being hassled by officious, ignorant, tyrannical border guards.

Other settlers insist on roughing it, like the couple we met near Hebron. The Federmans are raising their ten children in conditions reminiscent of the Appalachians before the Tennessee Valley Authority.

They figure it is pointless to build a more substantial house than the one they live in, because the Israeli government has destroyed their previous homes. They have also been charged with “child neglect” and other tricks the state uses to harass “troublemakers” — tricks not limited to Israel, of course.

If you think “Palestinian” “refugees” live in tents or shacks, think again.

They often don’t finish building the top floor because as long as the house is “unfinished,” they don’t have to pay taxes on it. Otherwise, some of their houses probably look bigger and nicer than yours — and you’re paying for theirs through foreign aid.

Our guide joked that some “Palestinians” are 140 years old. That is, UNRAW doles out money to individual “Palestinians,” which would naturally be cut off when that person dies. Just as naturally, their families don’t file death certificates, so the money keeps coming.


To poorly paraphrase Lenin:

“You may be very interested in Israel, but Israel may not be very interested in you.”

Just as there are anti-American Americans, there are Israelis who don’t share your passion for their country, especially if you are a Christian Zionist.

Speaking of which:

Dear Evangelical Protestants (like the ones I met in Israel):

Would it kill you to read a book one day? No, the Catholic Church is not “planning to take over Jerusalem.” I thought I’d heard every anti-Catholic conspiracy theory — did you know the Jesuits killed Lincoln? — but that was a new one on me. The Catholic Church I know fairly intimately can barely run its own affairs.

For everyone who welcomed Glenn Beck on his recent visit to Israel, I suspect there were a dozen Israelis who considered him a naive goyim buffoon who secretly wants to convert Jews to Mormons or something.

Christians are certainly welcomed because they bring in mega-tourist bucks, but don’t be under any illusions: the Orthodox Jews shuffling past your church group while you’re reenacting the Stations of the Cross may not be thinking the most charitable, ecumenical thoughts.

Yes, there are t-shirts for sale in hotel gift shops that read “Don’t Worry America — Israel Has Your Back!” But you’ll never see an actual Israeli wearing one.

One thing that did work in our favor was being Canadian. Our staunchly pro-Israel Prime Minister is much more popular in Israel than he is in much of his home country.

I hope Americans no longer sew maple leafs on their backpacks to get better treatment in Europe. However, I’m tempted to advise you to do that when you visit Israel.

Whatever you decide to wear, however, be sure to go. You won’t regret it.

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