Israel offers energy -- from its ancient wonders to the adventures and celebrations of its vibrant present. Dana Anesi, who has lived and studied in Israel, shares both the dynamic pleasures and the historical treasures.
Beyond the cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, we talk of northern Israel, including the city of Haifa, and the beauty and adventures of the Galilee. We then go south to the sands of both the desert and the Red Sea, the fort at Masada in the Negev, and Eilat's Med beaches.
From there we take a side trip to Petra, in Jordan, one of the new Wonders of the World. We go on to discuss the greatness of Israeli food, the idea of the kibbutz, and varied Israeli adventures.
Lea and Dana share special memories of Israel, and then, Dana sings an Israeli song!
Dana Anesi has been a musical and clergy leader at congregations around New York. She studied in Jerusalem and has traveled to Israel numerous times
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at forbes.com, has traveled to over 100 countries, and has written nine books, including the award-winning Places I Remember (Kirkus Reviews star rating, and 'one of the top 100 Indie books' of the year). She has contributed to many guidebooks and has written thousands of travel articles.
Contact Lea- she loves hearing from you! @lealane on Twitter; PlacesIRememberLeaLane on Insta; Places I Remember with Lea Lane on Facebook; Website: placesirememberlealane.com.
New episodes drop every other Tuesday, wherever you listen. Please consider sharing, following, rating and reviewing this award-winning travel podcast.
Lea Lane 0:06
Hi, I'm Lea Lane an award winning travel writer, and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world.
Israel on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean sea is about the size of New Jersey, the most densely populated United States State, with about the same number of inhabitants. About 4000 years ago, Abraham moved to the birthplace of the Jewish people, known as Canaan in ancient time. Israel has always been a place of competing civilizations and cultures. Modern Israel was established in the late 19th century by Jews in the Russian Empire who called for the establishment of a Jewish state after enduring persecution. After years of conflict in 1948, David Ben Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel and US President Harry Truman recognized the new nation on the same day. Today, Israel's highlights range from biblical ruins to Crusader fortresses to world war two memorials to cosmopolitan cities. Israel is easy to tour, it's got an excellent bus system which puts any city within reach. Israel may be small, but it's notable for many big reasons. It has the highest number of Nobel Prize winners per capita more than the US, France or Germany. It has more museums per capita than any country in the world. The Dead Sea in Israel is the lowest point on Earth at 13 115 feet below sea level at its lowest point. And Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. And for travelers. It's a great combination of ancient wonders, modern amenities, adventure, and great food. Our guest is cantor Dana, Anesi. She has been a musical and clergy leader at congregations around New York. And she studied in Jerusalem and has traveled to Israel numerous times. Welcome Dana, to Places I Remember.
Dana Anesi 2:06
Thank you, Lea. I'm so delighted to be here with you.
Lea Lane 2:09
I am too, there's so much to see and do. Let's start with Jerusalem. It's regarded by Jews, Christians and Muslims as the biblical Holy Land. Tell us more about what you shouldn't miss in the Old City.
Dana Anesi 2:21
Jerusalem is the city I know best in Israel having spent a fair amount of time there. Jerusalem, of course, is a holy city. And so no matter who you are, you're going to find something to connect to.
Lea Lane 2:33
Let's start with the Western Wall. Explain what that is.
Dana Anesi 2:36
So the Western Wall, which some mistakenly referred to as the Wailing Wall, is the remnant of the Second Temple that was erected in Jerusalem, and destroyed in the year 70. So there were two ancient temples. The first was destroyed by the Babylonians in the year 586 BCE. That's what Jews call before the Common Era. And then the second temple that was built and again destroyed by the Romans, this time in the year 70. So we have left that retaining wall, which is considered a very holy place, a holy spot for many,
Lea Lane 3:19
You often see pictures of people putting pieces of paper in the wall, explain that.
Dana Anesi 3:25
People place notes in that wall, asking for blessings for family and friends, or just to denote that they were there and consider it one of the, if not the holy spot, in Jerusalem,
Lea Lane 3:40
When I was there first in the 1970s, women were not able to do this; what's happened about that?
Dana Anesi 3:47
This is a difficult situation. The older pictures you see of the Western Wall, have men and women together from you know, a century or so ago, but they started segregating the genders quite some time ago. And now women and men are separate at the wall. The men's section is much larger than the women's (surprised, not surprised). There is occasionally some unpleasantness when more liberal groups try to come in to the main section with both men and women and bring tours and bring prayer books, and they have been attacked by more orthodox Jews.
Lea Lane 4:34
Tell us about the Temple Mount complex. It's close the Dome of the Rock, which is an Islamic Shrine, which is on the Temple Mount in the Old City.
Dana Anesi 4:43
So the Temple Mount is holy to Jews, because it's said to be the place where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son Isaac, and ever since this has been a spot of holiness, and of course the the mosque was was built in the same place.
Lea Lane 5:01
How about Al Aqsa Mosque, that's the third most important site for the followers of Islam. And then there's the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is identified as the place where both the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus are located. So there's a lot for religions of all kinds. And for people who have no religion, they're just historically interesting. And you find so many people from all over the world going there. Let me just ask you, do you have to dress modestly to go into these sites?
Dana Anesi 5:29
You know, shorts and T shirts and things like that are really not appropriate.
Lea Lane 5:33
I usually bring a big scarf, you can use it as a shawl for your shoulders, your legs, around your waist. (Yeah, exactly.) Well, Jerusalem is a historic, beautiful city with so much to it beyond the history. But the most modern and populous city right now, I would say is Tel Aviv. It's on the Mediterranean coast. And it's filled with 1930s, white Bauhaus buildings, which are clustered in the White City architectural area, there are loads of museums there, and a really great vibe. Why is it such an open city to all peoples, and so vivid and full of life?
Dana Anesi 6:11
Well, Tel Aviv is of course, a secular city. So it's a completely different vibe from Jerusalem. Jerusalem, you're kind of surrounded by sacred places; in Tel Aviv, there's very little of that -- like Barcelona or Lisbon very accessible. There's kind of the beachy vibe, and so much building that the joke is that the national bird of Israel is the crane. Tel Aviv, I think, is considered one of the most gay friendly cities on earth.
Lea Lane 6:46
The world class nightlife. I will say that goes on all night, right.
Dana Anesi 6:50
Excellent restaurants, they renovated the port area. So there are stores and restaurants; a great deal of effort has been put in to making Tel Aviv a real destination.
Lea Lane 7:05
Yeah, and a wonderful thing about it is Jaffa, the Old Port City, the ancient port city is right by there, it came out of that area. So if you want to go and see the history, you just have to go a little bit out of the main center of the city. And you've got this beautiful area of narrow streets and courtyards. Very, very desirable area to visit. And it's right there. You have flea markets, you have all kinds of shopping. And it's fun. So you get both in Tel Aviv, both the ancient and the very modern. (That's correct.) Let's talk about the north of Israel a little. It's known as the Galilee because of the lake which is the lowest freshwater lake on earth, by the way, but it's very beautiful. There are nature reserves and parks in the Golan Heights, and it's a lovely place to enjoy whitewater rafting and all kinds of soft adventure; Israel has become one of the best places for a soft adventure. You can do almost anything there if you if you're active. You can go in caves, you can enjoy yourself in many ways besides just looking at beautiful historic sites. The city that everyone knows about in the north is Haifa. Some call it Israel's San Francisco. It's very beautiful. Again, up the hillside on the water on Mt. Carmel. What do you want to see if you go there if you just have a day in Haifa?
Dana Anesi 8:22
You must go to the Bohai gardens. in Haifa, they're quite beautiful. As you mentioned, Haifa is quite high. It is quite a sight to behold. Near Haifa, there is a museum piece of a transit camp that's left called Ableit which is a place Jews were brought to when they came to Israel on ships. Of course Haifa was the the main harbor that Jews landed at when the British still controlled what was called Palestine and people who were permitted to disembark the ships were often sent to camps and held there until either they escaped or were finally set free by the British once the State of Israel was declared and the British left.
Lea Lane 9:15
I saw Haifa for the first time from the water on a cruise. A lot of the cruise ships stop there, and it was a beautiful sight to see, as you said. Well, the south of Israel covers about 50% of the country's land area but it's very sparsely populated, but it is filled with adventure, fascinating sights, many activities. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth as I mentioned before, the Judean desert that borders it is one of the world's smallest; but the much larger Negev, the desert there, is an adventurous playground has lots of things to do. Tell us about the mountain fort of Masada.
Dana Anesi 9:47
So Masada was Jews last stand, following the sacking of Jerusalem in the year 70. There was a group of Jews who held on. Many years later at Masada against the Romans, unfortunately, rather than be taken by the Romans, they committed suicide there, but it is a very impressive fort. It's a place you want to visit early in the morning. If you're going in the summer, it's quite hot, as is the rest of the Negev during most of the year. One can either take a cable car to the top or one can climb, there's kind of a snake path to go up. So depending on how adventurous you are. I personally have taken the cable car
Lea Lane 10:33
I've done both. I like the cable car.
Dana Anesi 10:38
More woman that I am! From the top of Masada and you can see for miles and miles around, and it is quite an impressive sight. And one can only imagine our ancestors standing atop Masada and wandering in the Negev, and being overwhelmed by both the geography and the magnitude of their place in the world at those moments.
Lea Lane 11:05
Eilat is a city, a tourism hub, actually, because of its wonderful snorkeling and diving, and it's on the Red Sea. It's a great base for excursions to Petra, which is one of the wonders of the world and neighboring Jordan. Many people today who are going to Israel are combining it with a trip to Petra, because when you're crossing the border from Eilat, you will need an entry visa, but it's relatively simple to get it, and once you've crossed the southern border to the Jordanian city of Aqaba, you can enjoy many interesting things. Even if you just take a day trip, which I did, you can see the desert at Wadi Rum. And then about two hours drive from the border is this great ancient city of Petra. It's half built, it's half carved into the rock and it's surrounded by mountains that are riddled with passages and gorges, and you take a long walk-- about a mile I'd say -- and then this opens up to you. You see the great main piece of work which is the Treasury which is actually a mausoleum. Petra is considered one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. I highly recommend it if you have the time to add it on to your trip to Israel. It's a perfect complement and it's a very pleasant excursion.
Now when I went first to Israel way back, the food was pretty basic. But now it's pretty great. I will say the last time I went I was overwhelmed by some of the food there. There's local food like falafels which is familiar to many: it's chickpeas that are fried as fritters; and then there's a wonderful breakfast food that's very popular now called Shakshuka. Everybody seems to be doing that. Now it's eggs with a sort of a spicy sauce. But the breakfast in general, if you go to a hotel in Israel, you will never see a breakfast like you do there. It's the whole world on a table. I mean, you can eat that thing all day long. What happened, and how come the food got so good?
Dana Anesi 12:48
It's an incredible love, bounty, yes, I just love Israel's food. In fact, when I come home and that's often one of the things I miss the most. You know, many Israelis really eat vegetables for breakfasts; they don't have more of our cereal, toast -- although you can find some of that, they're on one of those massive groaning breakfast boards at a hotel. Most Israelis do not eat that large of a breakfast. The typical breakfast on a kibbutz decades ago, was some chocolate spread on bread to get people sort of going in the morning, and then later on, they would have a larger breakfast when you had to get up, perhaps before the crack of dawn before it got too hot, and get to work in the fields.
Right. Well, there's still about 250 or so kibbutzes. Tell us what it is, I think I think now you can stay in them. Just spend a day there, visit. What is a kibbutz?
So a kibbutz is a communal living situation, and they were originally rather regimented, where all children slept in a separate children's area and the parents had their individual homes, but no one owned anything. The kibbutz was a kind of a socialist ideal. It contributed greatly to Israel's founding. Many of the great military people came out of the kibbutz experience, and it was a very powerful and important influence on Israel's early leaders. As the country became a little bit more capitalistic, the kibbutz lost some of its shine. Today kibbutzim, which is the plural, are less about agriculture, although there's still plenty of that. There's a good deal of manufacturing, and there's more personal ownership of homes and other things.
Lea Lane 14:42
Well, today, as I said, you can sleep in one. You can go to one and see what it's like.
Dana Anesi 14:48
So it was a place that many, not just Jews, but from all over the world,
Lea Lane 14:53
Very idealistic and a very big part of the culture still today, as a memory; just to go there is to see how Israel developed. Well, Israel has so many historic, we've mentioned historic and ancient things. But I also think of it as a great place to visit even if you are not interested in that so much. Because it has more than 130 beaches along the Mediterranean. It has hiking in the desert, you can cycle around the Sea of Galilee, you can free dive in Eilat. You can go canyoning, you can dive with sharks, you can go in salt caves; there's lots and lots to do. So I think in every way, Israel has become a great tourist attraction for the world.
The name of the podcast is Places I Remember. So let's share some memories. I'll go first. When I was first in Israel in the 1970s, I remember there were very few trees that I noticed outside of certain areas; there was lots and lots of desert -- it is a desert area. So I planted a tree, a little tree, and I came back to Israel many, many years later, and the hills were forested, there were so many trees. So I planted another one, because I saw with my own eyes how that little tree must have grown. I'll never see it, but I know it was there in the forest. So it's a wonderful thing. I think it's an example of people being ahead of their time, in terms of climate change, and all of that. They realized the importance of trees and greenery. So it's a beautiful thing to see today that the area is filled with beautiful plants. It isn't just desert. And it shows you how each little tree can make a difference. So I planted two in a span of maybe 50 years, and I hope my little trees growing up. I planted it about 10 years ago, it's probably getting there. What about a memory from you, Dana?
Dana Anesi 16:37
What strikes me every time I go to Israel is the juxtaposition of the old and the new in the streets, whether they're the streets of Tel Aviv, more so perhaps in the streets of Jerusalem, at the backdrop of the old city against the modern conveniences we all take for granted. Now, my favorite thing to do in Jerusalem is to sit on the terrace of the King David Hotel and look out over the Old City late afternoon or early evening, and it is the most calming and wonderful moment that I've had in the land of Israel. And I always try to make sure I get there. The other thing I love in Israel are the little restaurants that are tucked away on side streets that look as if they've been there, and have been there, not just for decades, perhaps for centuries. And discovering those little out of the way places just by wandering down a street you might not have found on a map, you might not have known about before, and being adventurous. So Israel is really all about adventure. Whether it's exploring the old or trying the new -- it has something for everybody.
Lea Lane 17:50
You summed it up very well there. The energy is so obvious -- the culture the arts, dance, the music and the beauty of the history, and today. [Dana sings an Israel song.] Thank you, Dana, for sharing your love of Israel and insights about one of the most energized, historic and special countries on earth.
My book, Places I Remember: Tales, Truths Delights from 100 Countries, is available in print, Kindle, and I read the audio version. You can follow me on forbes.com where I write five travel posts a month. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. And I'd love to hear from you on any of my links in the episodes show notes or on my website placesIrememberLealane.com. Until next time, make some travel memories.