Insights into Israel reflects on one tourist’s impressions of Israel

Impressions from the eyes of a traveler.

Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
A relief in Tel Aviv's Diaspora Museumis Israel
A relief in Tel Aviv’s Diaspora Museum

It is easy to understand why Jewish people have a great love for Israel. The country inspires a feeling of belonging in them, no matter where they may have been born. When Jews come to Israel they are returning to their roots, the home of their ancestors. They find their religious traditions and customs are shared and honoured in the Jewish Homeland. In Israel we see the many faces of Judaism.

The Mediterranean coastal beaches as seen from Tel Aviv

The Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv graphically explains why Jews feel such strong bonds of kinship with all Jews throughout the world. The museum, located on the grounds of the Tel Aviv University, portrays the traditions of the Jewish faith as practiced by the many Jewish people scattered throughout the world – the Diaspora. As I walked through the museum, I began to understand the importance of those traditions in bringing their people together. In spite of the many differences produced by environment, the traditions bring them together spiritually.

Sculpture in garden at Haifa
The Aqsa Mosque
The Western Wall of the Second Temple or The Wailing Wall

All through Israel Shabot begins on Friday at sundown. The Jewish Sabbath sees the country stop working and begin the traditional celebration of their Holy Day. Until sundown Saturday the country observes a day of rest. Businesses close down, buses stop running, (however taxis are still available) as Israel observes the Sabbath. Some of the more orthodox observers follow a strict no work policy, which includes even elevator buttons. To accommodate these people, hotels have Shabot elevators that stop at every floor. Hotels also have Shabot rooms which accommodate people with specially controlled lighting. Some restaurants are open, however most Kosher restaurants are closed. To the tourist, this is only a minor inconvenience as hotels do maintain their normal food services. I observed many families, each member dressed in their best for Sabbath, come to the hotels for their Shabot dinner. Special areas of the hotel are set aside for lighting the Sabbath candles. Probably the majority of Jewish men in Israel routinely wear little skull caps. However, it is not uncommon to see the Orthodox Jewish men standing tall in their long black coats, long black trousers and high, black, broad brimmed hats, with two little curls of hair bobbing by their ears. Showing their strong devotion are Hasidic Jews, who wear tall, round black fur hats, even in the sun on hot days.

Judaism plays a huge role in the government of the country. Differing political parties are promoted by the many Jewish sects. Palestinian citizens are entitled to vote also. They too have a long history here in the Middle East. In point of fact, they share much of the same history and some of the same prophets as the Jews. In conversation with me, an Israeli Jew referred to the Palestinians as their “cousins,” because it is believed they all descend from the same ancestors. Yitzhak Rabin, took the country to the brink of a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians. On my last afternoon in Israel, I took the opportunity to visit the Memorial to the assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. Many people throughout the world felt great sadness when he was gunned down. Following his death Ehud Barak attempted to follow his predecessor’s example and worked towards a peaceful solution.

Memorial to Yitzhak Rabin
Memorial to Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv

Unfortunately, violence again erupted on and off through the rule of Netanyahu and escalated to the point where great concern has been felt throughout the world, for all the inhabitants of the region. It is to be hoped that the new coalition government will promote meaningful dialogue between these two peoples, who are bound by their traditions to the same homeland, will resume and together they will find a means to a peaceful co-existence.

Street scene in the City of Jerusalem
Returning from a visit to Bethlehem, in the Palestinian sector.

In Jerusalem, the Old City has been home to many differing traditions. The most holy sites of three of the world’s great religions are found in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Western Wall of the Second Temple, built by King Herod more than 2000 years ago, still stands within the city. It is more popularly known today as Judaism’s most holy site, The Wailing Wall. A ramp beside the Wailing Wall takes you through the Palestinian security to the courtyard where we find the Dome of the Rock, from which Mohamed is believed to have taken off into eternity. On the same site is the Aqsa Mosque. This complex is considered to be the third holiest site in the Muslim religion. The Via Dolorosa, or the streets through which Jesus carried the Cross pass through the Old City to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the site where Christ is believed to have been crucified. It is not uncommon to see processions of Christians, accompanying someone who is carrying a cross, recreating that walk through the streets of the Old City. The large variety of religious or ethnic dress worn on the streets of the Old City, would be unusual in any other place on earth. Here it only adds to the fascinating smorgasbord of people upon whom the eyes of a people-watcher can feast.

A surprise meeting with the actor, Sefi Rivlin in Tel Aviv

As with people the world over, the moderates live quite peaceably together. It seems to be the fanatics who have created problems and animosity between these neighbours. It is my fervent wish that further dialogue and commitments will bring a peaceful future for all the inhabitants of this Middle Eastern Country. I hope to return there when travel again opens up.

Their Hebrew salutation says it all – Shalom meaning Peace.

Setting out in a “Jesus Boat” on the Sea of Galilea

Story and pictures by M. Maxine George

I must add that as time has passed peace has proven elusive. It is still the fervent desire of people throughout the world that a peaceful settlement to the conflict in the Middle East will soon be negotiated. I do hope that note is taken of the Dalai Lama’s message, to look for the values shared by all people and to build on those qualities. Shalom

For more information contact:
Israel Government Tourist Office
180 Bloor St., Suite 700, Toronto, Ont. Canada
Telephone: (416) 964-3784
Fax: (416) 964-2420

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