Thursday, 02 July 2015 12:23

Israel: Where Everything Old Is New Again

Written by  Geri Bain
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africa-israel“Wherever you dig in Israel, you find history-often layer upon layer of civilizations,” said Michal Neumann, who was guiding our small group of travel trade journalists on a whirlwind seven-day history-focused journey through Israel. Licensed guides in Israel undergo rigorous training and testing and meet ongoing requirements and can greatly enhance a visit. We were standing at the Israel Museum’s giant model of ancient Jerusalem as Michal unfurled five feet of cards listing the names and dates of the major waves of peoples who have left their marks here. The cards would come out throughout our trip, adding perspective to sites like Acre, where an Ottoman walled town sits atop remains of a medieval Crusader capital.

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem was our first stop. Home to the Shrine of the Book which showcases the Dead Sea Scrolls, the museum provided an engaging overview of the region through the ages. More recent history was the focus at Yad Vashem National Memorial and Museum of the Holocaust. Here the Garden of the Righteous recognizes brave Europeans who took risks to rescue Jewish people and a dramatic twisting maze of rooms reveals the touchingly tragic stories of individuals, communities and the Nazi descent into anti-Semitism and genocide. This journey into darkness ends on a dramatic terrace opening onto the Judean Hills, a fitting metaphor for the creation of the world’s only Jewish state.

The Magic of Names
The size of New Jersey, Israel has been continuously inhabited since the start of recorded history. A fulcrum for many of the world’s major religions, its very place names reverberate with their Biblical importance. Caution clients not to race around, checking off sites; magical moments abound for those who tune into their surroundings. Just outside Jerusalem, we observed two groups of pilgrims at the Church of the Visitation in the quiet village of Ein Karem (now part of greater Jerusalem). Here, church paintings and statues of a pregnant Virgin Mary and her until-then childless older cousin Elizabeth, future mother of John the Baptist, gracefully tell the story of their double miracle. And at the Mount of Beatitude, the Sermon on the Mount came to life as we looked out at the Sea of Galilee and Michal described the scene 2,000 years ago.

Indiana Jones, Israel Style
Throughout Israel, the fact that discoveries of ancient artifacts were constantly coming up made our trip pulse with an Indiana Jones style excitement. Adina Plastelina, a small jewelry shop in Old Jaffa with a tiny museum that showcases artifacts found during its remodeling, typifies the serendipity of these unearthings. Most thrilling was a recent discovery made along the Sea of Galilee, where Israel’s required pre-construction antiquities dig revealed that the proposed site of a Christian chapel and hotel was actually planned on the site of Magdala, home to Mary Magdalene. The 2,000 year old Jewish town and temple, believed to have been destroyed by the Romans, lay in ruins, undisturbed, just below the surface, for centuries. After a decade of careful excavation the Magdala Archaeological Park has just opened to visitors with amazingly well-preserved sections of floor mosaics and wall frescoes in the remains of a first century synagogue in a town where Jesus most certainly preached.

Beneath Jerusalem
Perhaps nowhere is more abuzz with excavation than the City of David Archaeological Park in Jerusalem. The Citadel moat, which includes an ancient quarry, a ritual bath from the Second Temple period and pools from the Hasmonean and Herodian eras, is now open to the public. And at the recently opened “Kishle,” the words “layers of history” become tangible as you gaze deep down to see remains dating to the 6th century BCE and walls from both the First and Second Temple periods, topped by areas used by the Ottoman Turks as a military compound and the British as a police station and prison. Excavation is also ongoing in the Western Wall Tunnels. When people speak of the Western Wall, they usually refer to the 180 foot long, 60-foot tall section that is above ground. However most of the original 1,700-foot long wall lies under today’s Old City. The timeless importance of this site was brought home by the sight of people praying in “new” underground prayer and meditation areas and by Herodian Hall, an ornate room that now can be booked for bar mitzvahs and other events.

Getting There
EL AL, the national carrier of Israel, offers the most nonstop flights from the U.S. to Israel with daily nonstop service--except on Fridays--from JFK and Newark, and at least three nonstop flights per week from Los Angeles, Toronto, and as of June 28, Boston. EL AL also has the only first class seats on non-stops from JFK, Newark and Los Angeles. For more information, visit or call
800-223-6700 or 212-852-0708.
For more information about Israel, visit



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