Easter Travels to the Holy Land on the Cheap

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This is the time of year people are making plans to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land for Easter. One thing not to leave to the last minute is hotel arrangements. Some of the best and most popular hotels in the region (which are often the most affordable, too), are booked six months to one year in advance.

A common option for those who want to pay less who can live with fewer amenities are hostels. The easiest place to start for booking a hostel is the website for ILH, the Israel Hostel association. Though their site only has options for Israel, it’s a fast way to check availability and book online.

As a backup if you can’t find a hotel in your budget and all the hostels are booked (as they often are during the most popular holidays like Easter), there is always the option of camping. A little-known goldmine of places to stay throughout the country are national parks. There are no books in English that guide people to the country’s campgrounds, but a very reliable place to start for rates and park hours and locations is the website of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority website.

If you have the gear and are willing to rough it a bit, camping might be the most affordable option. As long as the rainy winter is over!

The view of the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes. (Genevieve Belmaker/All Rights Reserved)
The view of the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes. (Genevieve Belmaker/All Rights Reserved)
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Christian Tourists to the Holy Land to Top 2 Million in 2013

As reported in the Algemeiner:

Christian tourists to the Holy Land are expected to reach a record 2 million in 2013, up sharply from the 1.18 million recorded in 2012, the Israeli Tourism Ministry said on Monday.

At end-October, according to Tourism Ministry statistics, 1.85 million tourists had passed through Rachel’s Crossing from Jerusalem to visit Bethlehem.

A total 75,000 tourists are expected to be in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem over Christmas, with 25,000 being considered Christian pilgrims.

The Ministry said, over the past two years, Israel has invested NIS 86 million ($24 million) in strengthening the transport infrastructure and other assets used by Christians to tour Israel’s religious sites.

Read the rest of the article in the Algemeiner

The Truth About Bethlehem

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It’s not quite the holiday season yet, but if you plan on visiting Bethlehem for Christmas, there are a few things to be aware of. If you’re visiting from a foreign country, or are not familiar with Bethlehem, this will especially apply:

1. Hire a tour guide in Jerusalem who will take you in and out of Bethlehem. Get a recommendation from one of the more established and reputable hotels for a guide, and plan as far in advance as possible.
2. Take your passport, you’ll need it to get in and out.
3. If you go during Shabbat/Sabbath on Saturday, expect more of a crowd once in Bethlehem.
4. Try your best not to drive. Either hire a taxi after you cross through the checkpoint, or hire a tour guide who will drive.
5. If you are unsure where to go, just look for Manger Square. It is the center or town, and where most shops and tourist attractions are.
6. Don’t hire a tour guide once you’re at the Church of the Nativity. They will charge too much, even though they will try to say they are registered or authorized, they might be bogus.
7. Start working your way back to your hotel about an hour before nightfall, especially if it is your first time in the area.
8. Don’t be shocked when you see numerous heavily armed Palestinian soldiers on the sidewalks. This is “normal” for Bethlehem, particularly during the holiday season.
9. If you buy anything from the shouk (open-air market) be prepared to be told that everything is “antique” which will make the price higher. Things might not necessarily be antique and the prices will be higher if you’re a tourist.

Don’t Miss Tiberias

The city of Tiberias, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, is a mixture of charming and mysterious. It is a rather small town, but full of  history.

Believed to be one of the earliest settlements dating back to the early Bronze Age in the land known today as Israel, Tiberias was named in honor of the Roman emperor in 18 A.D. Just north of the city on the shores of the Galilee, Jesus taught, lived and performed many miracles, including multiplying the bread and fish and teaching the Sermon on the Mount.

After the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, Tiberias was where a number of Jews fled. The city eventually became an important center of religious Jewish learning and is where the Mishna, a commentary on the Torah, is believed to have been put together by powerful rabbis of the day. In days past, the Jewish Great Rabbinical Court was also located in Tiberias.

One of the city’s key treasures is the nearby natural hot springs, renowned for their curative and therapeutic properties. The springs have long been a magnet seeking improved health and beauty.

Due to its history and development over time, Tiberias today is known as one of Judaism’s four holy cities. It is about 2 hours by car from both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and is situated in the heart of the Galilee.

Dancing in the Street in the Village of Ein Kerem, Israel

At the end of the Sukkot holiday while in the village of Ein Kerem (just outside Jerusalem), I came upon a large crowd of people dancing in the street. They were mostly men, and were holding a copy of the Torah (the Jewish holy bible). Ein Kerem is a very small village that is just a 15 minute drive from Jerusalem, but it is very typical of Jerusalem, where different religions exist peacefully side by side. Just up the street from where these men were dancing, monks were standing outside the gate of their monastery and talking with Christian pilgrims.

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