I joined many tours in the past, and my memory is still fresh about the Food and Wine tour, but I was blown away with the Israeli History and Culture tour!
I mean I appreciate Israel very much, but this tour brought it to a new level. It’s not the government, or the schools, the IT or anything like that. It’s the people who are living here and manage to live together for hundreds, even thousands of years in this small, little country.
My role in this tour was being part of the team, which created it. And at least I wanted to join the last beta-test of this new tour. My group was 30 people large (everyone wanted to join this tour) from all over the world! There were people in our group, who were historians, cooks, house wives, professors, a lawyer, accountants and even some IT people (programmers) and everyone came from all around the world.
Our tour started in Tel Aviv, where we visited the museums, old city of Jaffa and the little small things, which makes history. Our guide was very knowledgeable and he knew literally every stone there (he’s from Acre). He claimed all the time “… every stone tells his story …” and he continued telling (and showing) where Napoleon landed in Jaffa and what he did and where he went and why. He showed us a building built by the French, which functioned as a mental hospital, which is currently converted to a apartment complex.
He showed us the place where Napoleon slipped and needed medical help and he described how Napoleon got a treatment with blood suckers. Disgusting!
But we got a look into the hidden gardens from several monasteries, which are normally forbidden to enter. The little churches and the so called secret church, which is being used by many people from the the Far East. He was telling the stories about the emigrants from America, arriving in Jaffa harbor trying to find a living here and moving to Bat Yam. Before they left, he showed us their houses. He was telling stories about many abandoned houses and why they were abandoned and who are living inside now in a hidden existence. The sub-cultures currently living in Jaffa because of the poverty and illegal immigrants from all over the world and how they live and where they eat and where they buy their stuff.
Also in the middle of Jaffa, where you can find places so green, it reminds everyone of an oasis in the middle of the stone jungles. The galleries are fine, but most of them are for the tourists, but he led us to galleries where we found true art. And small shops, which sold paintings for $5 each! Amazing art. No tourists, only insiders who know. The small rooms, where they dump 20 Arab women together to produce clothing, which are sold in the shops downstairs.
The small kitchens where they make real good food from all over the world. The people living there minding their own business and are unique throughout Tel Aviv.
Oh and Tel Aviv. I’ve such good memories about this white city from the Food and Wine tour, and now I see Tel Aviv from another perspective. Many cozy streets in the Neve Tsedek areas, where many students are living, drinking and feasting in the evening, and chatting and talking in their phones and Facebook pages. The many places where you can drink coffee or something stronger and getting a bite to eat. Our guide brought us to student ran restaurants, where the food was not bad, maybe a bit experimental for my taste, but the rest of the group it was good. The cook, student in history, almost wet himself when he saw us 30 people strong entering his little restaurant. At least it was home cooked.
The guide was telling some funny stories while the Neve Tsedek was being restored and renovated. One story was about a worker, who disappeared in a hole in the ground. Everyone was looking for him for hours! He ended up later drunk! He fell into a hole and managed to dug himself into a neighboring home!
Be’er Sheva is a strange, ancient city. Strange in a way that at one side it’s ancient, and the other side it’s modern with large streets, highways, modern buildings and many people, but in the middle of all that modern stuff, which makes Be’er Sheva modern, you see people riding on donkeys and camels. It’s normal that a camel is parked between the cars, nobody looks strange. Desert people are mingle with the modern citizens, an old Arab man with a brand new iPhone 6 Plus, chatting with his granddaughter in Egypt. The guide spoke about the local history, 2,800 years old history, which you normally can’t read about. History, which is transferred by father to son and that for many generations. Jews and Arabs and Russians and Bedouins are living together as the most normal thing in this desert city.
When you approach this desert city thirty years ago, you would cross desert. Now it’s one, huge green area of fields of the many farms, camels and Bedouins walking around and doing their things. We visited one of the many temporary ‘villages’ of some Bedouins tribes and their coffee is as usual excellent and they told the stories about their fathers and the fathers of their fathers about times long lost except in their hearts and minds and that of their children, who must tell it to their children.
Some of the places near Be’er Sheva surprised us. Our guide showed us the places where no tourist ever come and we saw the ancient constructs for the water channels, built thousands of years ago. Civilization was alive and kicking then, while the rest of the world was hiding in holes.
We arrived at Sde Boker, and saw how the desert people are living there and their stories from the past. They were telling us about the desert and its secrets and hidden things, about their hunts and little wars and traveling through the deserts, those times when not many people lived there. Now their stories are being told in the evening and keeping everyone amused by their strange, ancient songs, learned from their fathers so long time ago. They were telling about the many caves out there, some of them with things in it, and hidden very well. They were telling about a Bedouin family, who hid their gold in one of the caves, hid it, but they were all killed by a raid. Many tried to find the treasure, but until now nobody managed.
Then there are stories of ancient civilizations, which lived there in the Sde Boker, hidden deep in the sand and stones and rocks, the many caves unexplored. We entered on of those many caves. It was deep, because we walked at least 30 minutes, before we decided to return. We had food along the campfire that evening. Amazing time it was.
At Mitspe Ramon the nature was breathtaking beautiful and the people helpful. There was a small desert town with a few people living there. One old man without teeth could speak for hours none-stop and he tried! The beauty of the desert was impressive and the stories of the guide were captivating. He was telling about the lost tribes of the deserts there and their tragical downfall. There is so much more about a simple desert then only sand and rock. There are so many treasures there, the only thing you need to find them. The guide led us to hidden places, where we even fund water and could drink it too! One spring gave salty water, which was excellent for our tired feet. He was telling stories about that spring that one day and Arab boy died of the salty water, but his body remained as it was, untouched by any animal until his father found him.
The Ramon Crater was also special. Not only the sights in the deserts, but the water! It’s amazing! The hundreds of stories being told about that place, which you can’t find in the Ramon Crater visitor center was and is very interesting. Those are the stories about the people, not some dry facts.
Masada was and is impressive. Not only in it’s massive presence, but also about the hidden things, not many tourists can see or discover. We were walking through the caves and canyons, looking at the traces from history, where once the Romans were fighting the rebels and what they did to attack the fortress and the human costs from all sides. Thousands perished in the battles and the heath and wilderness. The guide not only told the stories, but he pointed to the places where it actually happened.
We visited the cave, where you could walk to Jerusalem, only underground! He showed us one of the many caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and showed us the caves, which contained other scrolls, but were destroyed because of a collapse of the cave. One cave was very deep, but strangely was blocked by a wall. That cave was strangely never explored by anyone else!
The story how the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered and the stories of the Bedouins were using certain caves to live and to store their things and the stories about something kidnapping their children, who live in one of the caves.
The stories about the Roman soldiers, who were all killed and hidden in caves. The stories of miracles in those caves, where water suddenly appeared without anyone nearby!
I’m not going to tell here about old Jerusalem, that’s part 2 of this report about the History and Culture tour. Until now, we saw the desert culture. We lived with the people, we eat there food and talked with their families. In Jerusalem we go back to the modern live and check in the King David. From there were will explore old Jerusalem.