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Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

Israeli Tourism is on the strong rebound!

In 2019 a staggering 4.5 million tourists visited Israel!  It was the largest number since the creation of the State in 1948.  The following year the tourism industry was gearing up for an even bigger year.  Then Covid happened.  Since the country reopened to tourism this spring, after nearly two years, Israel is experiencing a strong renaissance of both individual and group tourism.  Israel has used the quiet two years to upgrade its tourist infrastructure.  There are now many new hotels, special travel opportunities and attractions.

Tuvia Guiding on Masada. Photo (c) T. Book, 2022

Near the southern city of Eilat there is now a state-of-the-art new international airport, the Ilan and Asaf Ramon Airport, creating an impressive new international gateway to Eilat, southern Israel, and the Red Sea.  There are an array of attractions and leisure options near Israel’s new second largest airport. Dive in the coral reefs of the Red Sea in Eilat, or take a tour to Masada King Herod’s ancient fortress and float in the Dead Sea.  It is also possible to cross into Jordan and take a trip to Petra and Wadi Rum, or hike in the wondrous mountains of the Negev Desert.

In addition to some world class hotels, many new hotels have opened in Israel over the past the past two years including the stunning Six Senses Hotel near Eilat, The Efendi Hotel in Acre/Akko, the refurbished Mitzpeh Hayamim in Rosh Pinna, and the new Soho House in Jaffa-Tel Aviv.  The Six Senses has a tasteful Bedouin chic vibe.  The 60 sunken guest rooms and villas are subtly sumptuous. Organic linens and wool rugs tend toward neutral shades with subtle pops of color, and furniture, including the built-in beds and deep, slipcovered couches, seems to emerge from the floor. Better still, the glass walls and terraces (mostly with pools), built like outcroppings, make you feel as if you’re living outdoors.  The Efendi hotel in Acre/Akko has only 12-rooms.  It is nestled in the Old City of Acre.  The elegant rooms are a mix of antiques and plush modern furniture and fittings. One can sip wine in its cozy, Byzantine-era cellar wine bar, and relax in the 400-year-old Turkish bath.  The Mizpeh Hayamim hotel in Rosh Pinna, is a 37-acre, 95-room luxury spa and resort from hotel chain Isrotel overlooking the Sea of Galilee and green plateaus. Reopened in 2020 after a $23 million restoration, the resort, where wellness is the watchword, features an expansive spa, organic farm, orchards and more. Interiors are a warm mix of light woods, natural fabrics and soothing colors.

Touring the Golan. Photo (c) T. Book, 2022

Some very interesting museums and fascinating national parks opened or reopened over the past two years.  In north Tel Aviv, after ten years of planning and construction, the largest Jewish Museum in the world reopened in 2020 with a new name ANU, The Museum of the Jewish People. This unique global institution tells the ongoing and extraordinary story of the Jewish people. The Museum represents all parts of the Jewish people and highlights the creative works and cultural riches of a variety of communities in different periods of history.  The museum connects Jewish people to their roots and strengthens their personal and collective Jewish identity and conveys to the world the fascinating narrative of the Jewish people and the essence of the Jewish culture, faith, purpose, and deed while presenting the contribution of world Jewry to humanity.  The museum utilizes cutting-edge technology to convey its message.

Another site well worth a visit is the new National Park Khan Sha’ar HaGai situated on the junction of the Jerusalem -Tel Aviv Highway number one and Beit Shemesh turnoff.  This road saw fierce battles during the War of Independence, and in memory of the men and women who took part in them, a heritage center was established in the khan, dedicated to those who broke through the road to Jerusalem.  It is a cutting-edge site that deals less with the chronology of the 1947/8 battles to keep the road to Jerusalem open, and more with the physical and emotional difficulties young convoy members faced, such as confronting dilemmas like whether the trucks should carry guns or food to besieged Jerusalem. There are displays of items used by the convoys, such as codebooks, handguns and rifles. And there are interviews with people who took part in the convoy operations, and part of the exhibit is animated.

In the lower Galilee the Tzipori National Park has invested a lot of budget investing in the genre of film depicting the period with actors at various sites throughout the park to make it more relevant for the younger visitors.  The site provides a glimpse into hundreds of years of ancient history.  Tzipori was once the capital of the Galilee, the seat of the Sanhedrin and the place where the Mishna was completed.  The liveliness of Jewish life in the city is indicated by the 18 synagogues the Talmud said the city had. Indeed, only one synagogue, built at the beginning of the fifth century CE, has so far been discovered. Its prayer hall features a spectacular mosaic replete with Bible stories and Jewish symbols. Scholars have even detected a message of optimism in the symbolism of the floor, built in the day when Jews were not allowed into Jerusalem by that city’s Christian overlords at the time. Detailed explanatory panels and drawings bring the synagogue alive.   The mosaic floors in Tzipori are some of the finest uncovered in all of Israel.

Israel has also been busy renovating and upgrading countless infrastructures and experiences. Bike lanes, for example, have been added throughout Tel Aviv, which also boasts a wonderful new park along the route of the old Ottoman railway in the city.  Jerusalem, meanwhile, has been working to make parts of the ever-cobbled Old City more accessible, installing handrails and even a soon-to-be-completed elevator that will go down to the Western Wall Plaza. And if it’s hiking you’re after, check out the newly opened Emmaus Trail just out of the city, which offers a fun day’s walk in lush countryside.

Post pandemic Israel is in full party mood. Aside from general good cheer, this also means that also absolutely everything is open, and until very, very late. Whether it’s restaurants, rooftop bars or even stores, the late hours of the day is when it’s all happening. Music concerts, art exhibitions and theater shows are back on as usual, giving us much-needed respite from all those TV binges. Also, the food has also never been better: Covid encouraged many aspiring chefs to open their own places, and the many restaurants that managed to survive the crisis are now in top mode.

The best way to see the sites in Israel, especially the off-the-beaten track sites is through hiring a local government licensed tour guide. These guides have gone through extensive training and are available in a multitude of languages to tailor make the perfect tour for you.  After a harrowing two years, which left many guides on the brink of destitution, the industry is bouncing back, and tens of thousands of tourists are pouring in weekly which is rejuvenating the Israeli tourism sector.  Hotels are full and the whole country is buzzing.

Desert Yoga in The Judean Desert. Photo (c) T. Book, 2022

 

Dr Tuvia Book is a Licensed Israeli tour guide, sought after educator, and acclaimed author who has been guiding groups from all over the world in Israel for over three decades.  His website is: www.tuviabook.com

About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He was a Senior Editor and Teaching Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. He is a research associate at the Hudson Institute. Tuvia is the author and illustrator the internationally acclaimed Israel education curriculum; "For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Studies" (Fifth edition, Koren 2017), and "Moral Dilemmas of the Modern Israeli Soldier" (Rama, 2011) and has a doctorate in Israel Education. His latest book, "Jewish Journeys, The Second Temple Period to the Bar Kokhba Revolt – 536 BCE-136 CE," was published by Koren this year. To order: https://korenpub.com/products/jewish-journeys
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