The following information is presented to help you prepare for your time in Israel. All information and perspectives are the sole opinions of Chris Davis. If you have any comments or questions about the material presented here, or need clarification or further information, please contact Chris Davis at Chris@ExperiencingIsrael.com.
Israel is a place unique in the world. It can be a mirror to one’s soul and travelers to this Land often meet themselves and members of their families in ways they did not expect. When families are hot and tired, personal and family issues tend to surface. Each individual, or family, will handle these issues differently.
Because Israel’s culture appears “western”, it is easy to forget that you have come to a foreign country. Israel contains so many different environments, cultures and people-groups, confusions and disappointments are bound to arise at some point and will bother only those who hold inflexible expectations. So, if you are a person who doesn’t appreciate the unexpected, who doesn’t like surprises, who doesn’t like things to change, who is easily irritated by inconveniences, inconsistencies, and conflicting spirits—or if you must be in control of your circumstances and surroundings—then this Experience may not be for you. However, if you love the excitement of new adventures each and every day—and if you love allowing the Lord to direct your paths—then this is the group for you to join! And, you can be assured that, like virtually everyone who has gone before you, you will definitely meet God in ways you have never known Him. The People of the Land are fond of saying that you cannot come to Israel unless God, Himself, invites you. If you sense that He has invited you, it is because He has prepared something unique for you to experience in His Land. And, you must be in His Land to receive it. Be prepared in your spirit for what awaits you in Israel!
The Tour Operator and/or the Tour Guide is responsible for altering the published itinerary at any time and in any way they deem appropriate, either by adding or deleting a site or sites or by changing the order of visitation according to their best judgment given conditions on the ground or according to what they consider to be most appropriate for the makeup of the group.
- Air: Flight costs are dependent upon the traveler’s point of origin. You will fly into Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV). We do not include the cost of airfare because many of our travelers wish to use flight mile rewards or other personal discounts for travel. See important travel notes, below.
- Land: Cost of the land portion depends on the season of travel, the length of the Experience, the number of individuals in a room, and the total number in the group. Some places we stay accommodate more than 4 persons per room. Obviously, the larger the group, the less expensive is the cost because certain fixed expenses (i.e. cost of a bus and driver) can be spread among more individuals.
- A large part of the cost of travel is simply “getting there” and we believe it makes sense to do as much as possible once you have paid the price to fly to Israel. We understand that you may never again have the opportunity to visit the Promised Land; therefore, we are going to give you a series of experiences you will not find on any ordinary “tour”! So, stay as long as you possibly can.
- Tips: Tips are an added cost of any overseas travel and are not usually included in prices quoted by travel agencies. Tips are customarily given at the end of any tour. Some (i.e. bus drivers) who work with groups do not earn a salary and are dependent solely on tips for their livelihood. We do not like surprising people with hidden costs, so we have included tips in our prices. Having said this, if you believe you have received exemplary service from a guide, bus driver, etc., feel free to give a further financial tip or some small gift or card that says, “Thank you.” This will not be expected, so don’t feel it is necessary. Some travelers like to bring a small gift or gifts that feature the area where they live. It is common for one or more Israeli families to host our group for a meal and such gifts are always appreciated. Avoid bringing an edible gift as some dietary restrictions exist in Middle Eastern countries.
- Costs not included in package: Most lunches (as we are traveling during the day and we will stop for lunch at places with several choices), snacks, water, refreshments, personal souvenirs, trip insurance (see next).
You can purchase trip cancellation and/or medical insurance prior to leaving for Israel. Check online for providers. We do not offer recommendations regarding this service. On some of my trips I have purchased both types of insurance but have only had to use them once. It is rare that such insurance is necessary, but flights do get cancelled and travelers do get sick, and travel insurance should cover this possibility.
YOUR FLIGHT TO & FROM ISRAEL
Important travel notes:
- Do not make flight reservations earlier than 90 days before the planned trip. Posted prices are based on a minimum number of travelers and we may not have the minimum number until deposits are due (which is 90 days from travel). On the rare occasion we fail to reach the minimum number required to make the trip happen, we will alert those of you who have signed up that the trip must be cancelled.
- Pay very close attention when making flight reservations so that you arrive and leave on the correct dates. You should arrive in Israel the afternoon (early afternoon is ideal) of the day the itinerary says we will hold our Orientation Meeting (unless you have made arrangements with us to arrive on a different date). If you are traveling from the western hemisphere, you will fly overnight and arrive the next day. If you schedule an early arrival, we will place you in a hotel (usually in Tel Aviv) and the extra cost will be passed on to you.
- Return flight (this is where you really need to be careful!): Most return flights to the West leave Tel Aviv late at night or in the early morning hours—usually between 11:45 PM and 5:30 AM the next morning. Make sure your return flight does not have you leaving the morning of the final day of the itinerary! For instance, if your return flight leaves at 12:15 AM, make sure the date is the morning after our final Farewell Dinner. We don’t want you to find yourself leaving the morning of the final day of your Israel Experience. See the website’s itinerary for exact dates.
- If you are bringing a group, we will send you the names of group-rate carriers.
- When booking your flight to Israel, try not to arrive in the morning hours as this makes transferring to the hotel difficult. Hotels are not ready to receive new guests until early afternoon. If at all possible, make your reservations so that you arrive in Israel in the early afternoon (hopefully not later than around 5PM). If you are unable to obtain reservations within these recommended schedules, we will work with whatever flight times you are able to secure.
- Re: ticket purchases. Experts say to book flights on a Sunday and no closer than 47 days from departure to get the best pricing (Tuesdays and Wednesdays are also OK days to book flights). Cheapest days to fly are Tuesday and Wednesday with most expensive days being Friday and Sunday. Keep checking both online (discount) & airline sites. You might be surprised to discover that a carrier’s own website offers less expensive rates than do the online sites. Another consideration is that you might find the most inexpensive tickets on a website only to look more closely and discover the flights require an all-day (or all night) layover, which means you arrive in Israel really tired for lack of rest. If you are willing to spend a little extra, I would suggest a direct flight from the west to Tel Aviv, rather than a stopover in Europe, unless you want to first visit some sites on your way.
- We will pick you up upon arrival in Tel Aviv and return you to the airport after our final Farewell Dinner and in plenty of time to make your flight home. Should you wish to arrive (or leave) earlier, or later, than the posted itinerary, we will do all we can to assist you in making rooming arrangements and we will pass the extra cost of this, as well as any extra cost of transportation, to you.
- We will hold an Orientation Meeting after everyone has arrived and settled in. The meeting may take place before or after dinner the first night (or even the next morning, if necessary).
See Note “Flying From the West” for more details about your actual flight to Israel.
REGISTER YOUR TRIP WITH THE STATE DEPARTMENT (if U.S. citizen)
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. STEP allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip abroad so that the Department of State can better assist you in an emergency. Register at:
When registering, you will be asked for an address and phone number in Israel. That information appears at the bottom of the “Final Checklist” page on this site, https://preparingforisrael.wordpress.com/o-your-final-checklist/
WHAT TO WEAR WHILE IN ISRAEL
There are 4 considerations in determining what you will take with you to wear in Israel. They are: Appropriateness, Comfort, Quantity and Maintenance.
Appropriateness: Travelers to Israel are usually surprised to discover that Israel is mainly a secular country which means people dress about like they do in any westernized nation. Having said this, most of the families joining this trip will be fairly conservative, so please consider this when planning such things as the length of shorts and type of bathing suit to wear. The other issue relating to Appropriateness is that you will be entering some religious sites that carry a strict (yet often arbitrary) dress code. For instance, when entering the Temple Mount, men must wear long pants and women must wear a dress or skirt and their shoulders must be completely covered (preferably with a shawl or something long-sleeved). Women and men wearing shorts, and women whose shoulders are not adequately covered, will be required to purchase coverings from the Arabs. The simplest item of clothing for a man to bring is a pair of “convertible pants” which are pants that convert to shorts when the leggings are zipped off (available at most sporting goods stores or online). Or, a man could wear shorts but carry lightweight, elastic-waisted pants he can easily pull over the shorts when this is required and remove the pants when he leaves the site. Ladies may wear shorts if these are covered with a skirt which can then be removed upon leaving the religious site. Having on hand a scarf or shawl is usually a good idea. Girls: forget packing to be fashionable in Israel. The currently popular shorts (very short and/or torn) will cause you to be turned away from some sites you will want to enter.
For information on what to pack relating to Comfort, Quantity and Maintenance, keep reading.
WHAT TO PACK
Everyone packs too much for a trip to Israel. Even I can’t resist packing too much. When packing for Israel, always think: fewer, smaller, and lighter.
Israel has several climate zones and the temperature varies depending on where you are in the Land on any given day. The following packing information relates mainly to the summer months of May 15 – September. The months of October – May 15 could see varying changes in temperature (at times mild to cool/cold), including the possibility of scattered rain. Consider packing for layering if it it turns cool/cold.
- You may have access to a Laundromat, but don’t count on it. Pack as if you will not have access to either a laundromat or an iron. Take clothing that is drip-dry and washable in the sink. This means you will also pack some liquid or powdered detergent that won’t spill or break in transit (the green camping soap or small travel detergent packs from Wal Mart work well). You will also need a sink stopper from your favorite hardware store that measures 1-3/8” where it fits the sink opening. In a zip-lock baggie take something to act as a clothesline and enough clothespins. Clothes dry faster if, after you wring them out by hand, you then roll them up in your towel for a final wringing.
- A day-pack (not a large backpackers pack) to carry everything you may need during the day. You may safely leave this pack on the bus. However, always carry on your person anything valuable such as money, passport, cell phone, etc.
- Women can carry the same kind of pack as a man or carry a small satchel or an over-the-shoulder carry-all bag about camera case size that has several pockets with zipper closures.
- Some sort of security pouch or fanny-pack that you can wear around the neck or waist in which you will carry money, passport, traveler’s checks, credit cards, etc. (available at Wal Mart & outdoor stores). Never carry these things in a day-pack or carry bag, but always on your person. Leave at home the wallet you normally carry in your back pocket. Although a day-pack or fanny pack will identify you as a tourist, these items are preferable to something that is easily pick-pocketed.
- A very comfortable pair of sandals (I almost never wear any other footwear in Israel, including when walking in water). Everyone wears sandals. These should not be “designer” sandals, flip-flops or Crocs which can be hard on the feet. We do a lot of walking! All new footwear must have been well broken in before you use them in Israel. Blisters will hurt your trip as well as your feet! Bring a pair of comfortable tennis shoes. You will not want to wear tennis shoes exclusively as they are hot during the day but are good on cool evenings and for when we walk in briers (which we will do).
- An important note re: flip-flops and water shoes. If you bring flip-flops for taking showers, don’t use them for any other walking. Water shoes are fine for walking through Hezekiah’s Water Tunnel or in the Dead Sea (although I wear my regular Choco sandals in both places). In the past, those who have insisted on wearing flip-flops for walking have been sorry they did. Sandals must have a back-strap around the heel.
- 1 – nice outfit. This means what you might wear to a casual church service. We may be invited to a Sabbath meal or even to the Israeli Parliament. Let me be specific here:
- Men: slacks, knit shirt & sandals or tennis shoes
- Women: skirt or dress that comes below the knee and shirt or blouse that covers the shoulders. These may contain a design that is not religious and does not contain words.
- You may feel over-dressed if our only Shabbat meal is with the soldiers, but that is preferable to feeling under-dressed if we are invited somewhere else requiring nice clothing.
- Do not bring any clothing containing religious words or phrases.
- 2 – pair of shorts are all you need which will include your “convertible pants”.
- Women: Many ladies have stated that the ideal items for women are comfortable cotton or silk shirts with sleeves to mid-upper arm or elbow, and skirts or dresses. They will go anywhere (ie. any religious site) and are cool. Skirts are cooler than pants and as cool as shorts. Some religious Israelis consider shorts on women to be immodest. Sometimes, girls come to Israel and wear short-shorts only to feel embarrassed when they realize they are showing much more skin than anyone else around. Cargo shorts or cargo pants (with many pockets, especially pockets in the front that button or zip) might work. Women take enough underwear to change each day.
- I highly recommend that you not wear long pants all day unless you must for medical reasons. On one trip a teen wore long pants most of the time and was uncomfortably hot most of the time. [Having said this, on a recent trip, one family always wore long pants and long sleeve shirts. They were from the desert of Texas and said they always covered themselves completely when they went outside! I don’t recommend this unless this is what you are used to].
- Men: the ideal shirt is short-sleeved and made of the type of fabric that absorbs body moisture, wicking it away from the body so it can evaporate. One brand of this type of shirt is Cool Max, but any sporting goods or outdoor store should carry something similar. These can be slept in and washed in the sink or shower each morning and they dry quickly. Purchase 2-3 at most sporting goods stores. You will need no other shirt except the knit shirt mentioned above.
- Men: only a few pair of underwear. These can also be slept in and washed each morning and are dry in a few hours or by evening. Or, take enough underwear for the entire trip and throw them away each day. Underwear is not that expensive and you will make room for gifts in your suitcase as you throw things away.
- For washing clothing in the sink: 1-2 small bottles of green “Camp Soap” liquid available in the camping section of Wal Mart. Or, a box or bag of dry detergent. Only a few places have washing machines and sending clothing to a Laundromat may be impractical.
- 1 – rubber sink stopper 1-3/8″ (where it fits the sink drain) if you will be washing clothes in a sink. Also, a cheap clothesline with clothespins can be obtained at Wal Mart. You will use this often.
- Something for when it gets cool and/or windy. I pack a lightweight long-sleeved, pullover shirt and carry (in my day-pack) a light windbreaker for cool evenings. I also keep a pair of socks in my day-pack to wear with my sandals in the event the weather turns cool while I am out.
- It is usually recommended that you carry a very small umbrella or poncho in the event of rain. I carry one, but have never used it except during the winter months.
- Bathing suit, towel and washcloth. A chamois-type, camping towel works best due to its size and light weight. Women pack a modest bathing suit. Modest is the operative word here. We try to be in the water often. These times of swimming are so enjoyable, you will be very disappointed if you decide beforehand that you don’t want to swim. Most Israelis don’t use washcloths and one won’t be provided in our rooms. Bring your own if you use one.
- 1 – hand mirror per family. If we visit a settlement, there may be no mirror and you will need one for shaving, combing hair, etc.
- Any other personal items you wish to take or carry in your day-pack: small roll of camper’s toilet paper, small pack of baby wipes, universal power adapter if you must take electronic equipment, camera, film, brush, lipstick, journal & pen or pencil, pencil games for children to play together, musical instrument for group sings if you have the room.
- The proverb, “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is not operable in Israel. We do not stay in 5-star hotels, but we often stay in Guest Houses, which are the accommodation of choice for travelers on a budget. Some Guest Houses are quite new and sparkling clean; however, after taking over a hundred families to Israel, I have discovered that what is adequately “clean” to me may not be “clean enough” to someone else who is squeamish about shower curtains and floors. If you are in the latter category, consider packing a (small) can of Lysol spray disinfectant.
- Consider taking an empty (or, almost empty) hard sided suitcase if you think you might purchase items for Christmas, weddings, friends, or yourself. It is very difficult to pass up some of the beautiful things you will see (and collect) only in Israel. Or, you may want to take a suitcase that is larger than what is needed for your personal items so you will have room to bring back things purchased. Or, you may purchase an inexpensive suitcase while in Israel. This is an important consideration.
- Hat. Many people don’t like to wear hats, but dehydration is more common if the head is uncovered. FAIR WARNING: No hat could mean becoming dehydrated and getting sick.
- Lightweight Bible.
- You will not need a map as you will be given a good map when you arrive. However, many former travelers brought different colored hi-lighters to hi-light the route we took each day on their map. A great way to show people back home where you went (and, it will help you remember when you get home).
- One of the most common comments I hear at the end of a trip is, “I made a mistake in not bringing a journal. Marking my map helped; however, I should have been jotting down each location we visited and the stories told at that location. I’m already forgetting!” Bring a journal and use it.
- 1 – disposable, waterproof camera if your itinerary calls for rafting in the Jordan River and/or snorkeling the Red Sea.
- A few zip-lock bags. There will be days when you will be reminded to bring these bags for collecting.
- Ear plugs, for the flight or if the Guest House has other, noisy guests at night.
- If you bring a kerchief, you can moisten it from your water bottle and place it around your neck to keep you cool.
WHAT NOT TO PACK & TAKE
- You will not have time to lounge around and listen to CD’s or read books except on the airplane. Avoid bringing anything that adds weight or needs maintenance (ie. ironing), etc. The less you take with you, the better!
- Women & girls: Don’t pack tank tops, blouses with spaghetti straps, or short shorts.
- Everyone: Do not wear clothing with religious sayings or pictures (i.e. “Jesus loves you”). Also, religious jewelry may offend some of our hosts; but I don’t worry about this as jewelry can be removed if necessary. We try really hard to avoid anything “in your face” that is overtly Christian. Israelis are deeply sensitive about seemingly subtle attempts to put Christ into a contact, dialog, or visual with them. Since Judaism is not in any way evangelistic, their cultural experience doesn’t include what they perceive Christians are always attempting to do to non-Christians: convert them. That is why we err on the side of avoidance of Christian symbols, pictures, etc. Some Christians are offended by this stance; however, we are not visiting Israel to evangelize the people (there are tours designed for that purpose). Our groups visit Israel to learn and this attitude actually causes Israelis to relax around us and be more open to our people. Just be sensitive…
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LADIES (FROM SOME OF OUR LADY TRAVELERS):
- From a 3-week traveler: “I packed a few things for the children that were too heavyweight to dry overnight. Next time we will go with clothes designed for travel, as in lightweight fabrics. Packing sandals and tennis shoes for everyone was a good idea. Less is better. Take less for the kids. I took 8 outfits for each and next time would take 5 plus the one set worn while in transit (6 in all). For myself, I would invest in the type of skirt that is sold by “Travelsmith” [www.travelsmith.com] but I’m sure other travel catalogs also sell this type of clothing. Lightweight, no iron, easy to hand wash and drip dry. Also a couple of pair of walking shorts (L.L. Bean has ladies’ 9” inseam) for the more vigorous days (ie. Camel riding) but are still modest. Take a ‘Sharpie’ felt-tip pen.”
- From another mom, “Visit http://www.tilley.com and check out their travel clothing for men & women. I prefer skirts and dresses. Also check out L.L. Bean & Magellan’s. Knowing what I know now, I would take 2 or 3 skirts, a pair of pants, water shorts, a swim suit and 3-4 blouses/shirts. My many-pocketed vest was wonderful for small amounts of money, credit cards, camera, pens, etc. Also took a security pouch which I carried around my neck. Carry plastic bags for activities where valuables might get wet. Take absorbent camping towels instead of full size ones. We took too many socks. 2-3 pair would have been enough. Sewing kit, first aid kit. One week’s worth of underclothes is fine.”
- From another mom: “When they recommend bringing wash rags, they aren’t kidding. NO accommodation had wash rags. Also, regarding clothing, I wish I’d done what one lady did — long travel skirts and only t-shirts with sleeves. I was worried about heat and brought a lot of sleeveless shirts. Therefore, I had to worry for most of the trip about carrying along another shirt or wrap to cover my arms when necessary. But Israel, though hot, is not nearly as humid as Houston, so the sleeves would not have been a problem. The very light cotton skirt I bought was easily caught up in a breeze — thus the long travel skirts would have been a better option. Another caution: Make sure you bring a hat that will stay on your head!”
- No vaccinations are required for Israel.
- Pack any medicines you normally take at home.
- The sun can be very strong in parts of Israel and it is recommended that you take a sunscreen with you. One brand that is recommended by dermatologists is CeraVe. and can be rubbed on the skin in the morning.
- You may want to pack some Immodium. It is nice to have this along if you or your child(ren) get diarrhea with a change in diet or lack of hydration. If you have medical problems, bring whatever you think is prudent. After dehydration and blisters, motion sickness is the most common complaint. People are surprised at how mountainous Israel is. So, if you, or your child, easily get motion sickness, bring an over-the-counter medication for this.
- Some travelers have brought powdered electrolytes (like Gatorade) which can be added to bottled water to ensure that your family does not become dehydrated.
- In most cities you can purchase any of the over-the-counter drugs & drugstore items you would purchase in the U.S.
- Antibiotics will not be available to you unless you visit a doctor or the hospital.
- If you are fair-skinned and tend to get sunburned, bring sunscreen.
- Baby powder for heat rash is an absolute “must” especially for boys/men.
- Please let us know right away if you have any special dietary needs that need to be considered while you are in Israel!
- Middle Eastern relational culture revolves around food and eating together. You will most likely gain weight during your trip because you will discover new and delicious foods you will have not known before. You will not be bored with Israeli food, all of which is worth trying. Some surprises will be the staples: lots of varieties of fresh breads and cheeses, fish (raw & cooked), the ever-present tomato & cucumber “Israeli salad” and hummus. The only thing you might not be used to is that breakfast normally consists of bread, cheese, yogurt, cucumbers, olives, tomatoes, milk, juices and (sometimes) brewed coffee. Some places will provide eggs and meat (no sausage or bacon). Usually a form of corn flakes is the only cereal provided. Fresh and dried fruits are available for purchase everywhere.
- There are always lots of places to buy food and snacks, sometimes including the same fast foods we have in the U.S.
TIME, WEATHER & ELECTRICAL CURRENT IN ISRAEL
- Israel is 7 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Time.
- The rainy season is normally October through March but that doesn’t mean it never rains any other time of year. Summer is hot but weather depends on the location as the weather varies greatly from place to place. At other seasons, it is usually comfortable but can still be hot midday & cool/breezy at night.
- Electrical current in Israel is 220v-240v, 50 cycles. If you pack anything electrical, you will need a) a current converter (unless your appliance already has one built in, as is the case with most newer computers & camera battery chargers); and b) a plug converter (Israeli plugs are small, 2-prong holes, not slots).
COMMUNICATING WITH HOME
- Many travelers purchase a long distance calling card when they arrive in the Land or before they leave home. I don’t like these as I find them difficult to use.
- You may rent a cell phone after arriving in Israel. Check out http://www.israelphones.com/loveisraeltours.htm as one option. If your cell phone is “SIM Free” (unlocked), you may rent a SIM card for your phone and only pay for calls made.
- Internet and email access is often available only in the lobby of most guesthouses. Emailing will take time away from other things you might want to do in the evenings (shop, sleep, fellowship).
- I recommend doing without your computer while in Israel!
- You may take pictures of anything or anybody, but it’s a kindness to ask permission if taking pictures of individuals or groups. If you are not allowed to take a picture of something, you will be politely told so. You may not take pictures of certain places on holidays.
- Single-use cameras are available in Israel, but they are expensive. Bring your own. Take a waterproof camera for when we are in the water.
- A camera is the item most often left behind at various places. Keep an eye on yours.
WHY DO WE VISIT SOME PLACES WHILE AVOIDING OTHERS?
The trip you are about to take encompasses a wide variety of experiences, and this is the main reason why our Israel Experience is unlike any ordinary “tour” one might have in Israel. People visit Israel with many expectations and one of them is that they not be fooled with unreality. Our travelers often speak to others who have been to Israel through a tour agency. When our travelers share what they experienced in the Land, others are dismayed at what they could have done, but simply didn’t know was available to them.
There are 4 “levels of legitimacy on the ground” in Israel. What this means is:
Level 1: Is this site legitimate? The answer is an unequivocal “no”. These places are often regarded as “must visit” sites. The problem is that what was supposed to have happened in that location could not possibly have happened there. Nevertheless, people visit the site because many tourists simply expect to be taken there. One example is the so-called “Upper Room” in the Old City of Jerusalem. There are many rooms above ground level in the Old City, but since the entire city of Jerusalem was razed by the Romans in 70AD, there is no such place as Jesus’ original Upper Room. There are many such Level 1 sites in the Land and we do not visit them.
Level 2: Is this site legitimate? Possibly, but most likely not. This would include such oft-visited locations as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City. There are many sites that have gained popularity over the generations, but there is no real reason (other than the fact that the place is popular), and there is no archaeological evidence to support the veracity of their claim. If you are Catholic and have a strong desire to visit any of these, we will make arrangements for you.
Level 3: Is this site legitimate? Most likely; if not exactly where people say, at least it happened nearby. These include the Mount of Beatitudes, Mount Carmel, Garden of Gethsemane, etc. We visit many Level 3 sites.
Level 4: Is this site legitimate? Without question. This would include Capernaum, Jesus’ hometown (and the house where Jesus lived with Peter and the synagogue where He taught). It also includes the recently discovered Palace of King David in Jerusalem and the recently discovered Pool of Siloam (where Jesus told the blind man to “go and wash”). We visit virtually every Level 4 site. There are so many “Level 4’s” in Israel, why waste time visiting places that are either not legitimate or are only speculative?
Historical note: Helena was the mother of the Roman Emperor, Constantine. History suggests she was a Christian. So, when Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Roman Empire, Empress Helena visited Israel with the express purpose of discovering the sites related to Christ’s life and ministry. She is supposed to have spoken to locals as well as to have received many dreams and visions of these locations and she had churches built on the sites where she believed Jesus’ life and ministry took place. Most of these sites, visited by millions of Christians each year, have no other authenticity than that Constantine’s mother said they were authentic.
Our promise: We will treat you with honesty and dignity and will not waste your time by treating you as tourists. Your time in Israel is much too valuable!
Finally, there are places we would very much like to visit but which are simply not available to us, mainly because they are in the hands of the Palestinians and it would not be wise to attempt to visit them. One example is Jacob’s well in the Arab city of Shechem.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHILE IN ISRAEL
- Expect to be delighted, surprised and confused by almost everything you see and hear. Remember: It is expectations that cause offenses and disappointments. So, always keep an open mind.
- Few people visit Israel without preconceived expectations about something. Whatever pictures your mind gets when you read the Bible will change once you are actually in the land of the Bible!
- Security is everywhere and you will not be allowed to go anyplace that is deemed problematic. The officials guard tourists with great care; therefore, our itinerary may change at any time.
- Everyone speaks English. Israel is not a good place to learn Hebrew because Israelis like to take every opportunity to use their English. Nevertheless, they appreciate any effort you make to speak their language. One of the Notes you will receive contains the most common Hebrew expressions.
- You will see people begging anywhere there are crowds or in any large town. Westerners typically don’t like beggars. However, a Jew considers that giving to a beggar is fulfilling a commandment of God. Beggars, on the other hand, consider that they are offering others the opportunity to obey God. Each of you will have to decide what to do with this issue. Some of you will not have enough discretionary money to give to beggars. Yet, the Lord may just prompt you to give to some, anyway. Don’t ever feel guilty for what you do in Israel.
- Most of the Israelis you will encounter simply want the Arabs to go away. This is another attitude which may be difficult to understand unless you have gone to the effort to become informed about the history of Arab-Israeli relations. If you are interested in becoming so informed, read some of the books I have recommended in another Note.
- Israel is a place of great contrasts, especially among Jews, themselves. Many wish Israel was not a religious country at all. We will discuss these contrasts. Israelis consider Israel to be their rightful land and they will do anything to settle it, live on it and protect their right to it.
- Young & Old: One of the contrasts that you will see everywhere is that Israel is both new and ancient. Although Israel, as a nation, is young, it contains much that is old, including many of its buildings as well as the infrastructure of its oldest cities. Try not to be put off by what appears to be a general lack of maintenance or cleanliness. Every people-group in the world has a different perspective regarding what constitutes acceptable levels of cleanliness. We want you to be comfortable in Israel; if something is not acceptable to you, you must let us know so we can do something about it if at all possible.
- Litter: Israel is a Middle Eastern country and Middle Easterners don’t have the same attitude toward ecology (including litter) as do Westerners. Israel is not as messy as some other Middle Eastern countries, but Israelis don’t seem to mind litter. If you are from a northern European country where cleanliness really is next to godliness, you might be offended. Overlook clutter and litter as best you can.
- Jews have had thousands of years to think about things and their perspectives on just about everything are very different than everyone else’s. This can be both frustrating and fascinating. Always be in “learner mode”.
- Westerners (especially those from the southeast) often say they think Israelis are rude, aggressive, unpleasant, argumentative, loud and opinionated. Israelis do speak loudly (some say they yell at one another) and they are opinionated. They drive aggressively. If you enter their store they won’t ask to help you nor will they thank you when you make a purchase. They will step in front of you in line as if you were not there first. Girls on a bus will refuse to take a seat you offer to them because they don’t want to be perceived as not being as strong or capable as a man. 60+ years of strife and difficulty have put an intensity in these people so that they don’t display many of the social graces Americans take for granted. Israeli Jews are no respecter of persons and don’t like pretense. Be real. They don’t like people acting “religious”.
- Go here to read a short and interesting article entitled “10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Moving to Israel.” Humorous, practical, and honest.
- Israelis appreciate tourists. They know their country is portrayed in the media as being somewhat unsafe and they respect people who come anyway. In fact, they respect anyone who is not afraid to do what he wants to do. Israelis feel that the U.S. is far more dangerous than their own country. After all, we lose 3,000 at one time and people are murdered in our cities daily! This is something they simply cannot imagine.
- Red Sea Snorkeling, a special word: Although this is always one of the most highly anticipated activities on our trip, it can, for some, also be one of the most disappointing. For those who have never snorkeled, the sensation of being under water, breathing through one’s mouth from a tube (and hearing one’s breathing), can be unnerving. Also, the person is in the sea, which means the water rises and falls and can, at times, enter the snorkeling tube which means one must learn how to expel the water with a strong, exhaling breath. If you, or someone in your family, have never snorkeled, it would greatly enhance your/their enjoyment of our snorkeling time by purchasing an inexpensive snorkel and simply spending time practicing either in the bathtub or a pool. We snorkel at the Coral Reef National Park on the Red Sea which has some of the most beautiful sea life in the world. You will want to be prepared to enjoy every minute of this experience!
HOW TO ACT IN ISRAEL (and other important comments).
Please re-read this list before you leave home
- You must carry (and drink) water at all times. Suggestion: carry one small bottle/person and have on the bus one 2 liter bottle to refill the smaller bottles. I refill my bottles from the tap in the motel/guesthouse as I consider Israeli water safe to drink. Others drink only bottled water they purchase. The most common medical problem you will encounter is dehydration. The signs of dehydration are (typically in this order of seriousness): a dry, sticky mouth (including a white tongue); headache; sleepiness or lethargy; extreme thirst (or, even, a lack of thirst); decreased urine output (and/or darker-than-normal urine); muscle weakness; dizziness or lightheadedness; diarrhea and/or vomiting. You cannot drink too much water. We would rather hear, “When is the next bathroom break,” than to take someone to the hospital due to dehydration. Monitor your children’s liquid intake and make sure they drink enough water. This may be the most important thing you read in these notes! FAIR WARNING: Drinking too little water will make you sick!
- Never argue biblical issues or use scripture to make a point to a Jewish person. We are in Israel to learn from, and be a blessing to, the people. The Tour Leader will stop any conversation he deems inappropriate. Some people ask questions when they are really trying to make a point. Others engage people in conversations with the intention to turn the conversation to a discussion of Jesus, etc. And, still others want to pray for some of the people they meet (ie. to bless them). Please don’t do this. If you want to pray for someone, God can hear your prayers said in private. Israelis like to say, “In Israel, prayer is a local call.”
- Please have a discussion with your children so they do not ask Jewish children why they don’t believe in Jesus, or enter into any discussion that might come across as evangelizing. This is highly offensive to Israeli Jews. There are tours specifically designed as mission trips to Israel. This is not one of them. This is a learning experience. If you have problems not sharing your faith while in Israel, you probably should be with a different group. I have been asked to share my beliefs with some of the people you will meet, but this was because I had spent years establishing a relationship with them.
- You will meet Israelis who have very diverse opinions about both the political and the religious situation in their country. Some Israelis believe they should give up more land to the Palestinians and allow for the creation of a Palestinian State. Others believe this attitude is treasonous. Still others believe the State shouldn’t exist at all since it was founded by mostly non-religious individuals. Israelis are passionate and highly opinionated people. You might be confused by the wide range of opinions and religious beliefs, or you might be just as passionate about your own ideas about these issues. The more you know, the more difficult it is to be without an opinion. However, my advice is that you remain in learning mode rather than lecture mode. If one of the leaders stops a conversation you are having, please don’t say, “But God opened the door for me to talk to this person.” The leaders are responsible for the tour and they won’t hesitate to speak to you if they feel the discussion has moved away from what they consider appropriate.
- Different families have different opinions as to how children should behave. Please monitor your own child’s behavior and make sure he or she is not the one pressing all the buttons on the elevator, blowing their new shofar in the lobby of the hotel at midnight, climbing on archaeological sites, etc. Just be sensitive. Having said this, you may soon discover that Israelis do not discipline their own children. This may be due to the fact that every child will soon join the army where he or she could be in harm’s way so parents allow children behaviors which westerners find difficult to understand. Israeli children are very loud, especially in groups.
- If you become frustrated about something for any reason, please bring your concerns to one of the leaders.
- Jewish Law does not allow an Orthodox woman older than 12 to be touched by a man other than her own father, brother or husband. In America we freely shake hands and Christians hug their brothers and sisters in Christ. In Israel, men hug and women hug, but men and women of the opposite sex only hug members of their own families. When introduced to a woman, try to remember not to extend your hand to her. If you do, she will shake your hand even though it is against the Law to do so because it would be a greater offense to embarrass you by refusing your gesture of friendship. I have grown close to many Israeli married couples but I don’t hug the wives. We simply jokingly say, “Consider this a hug from me.” If a woman extends her hand to you, she is probably not religious, and you should shake it.
- At times you may be asked to wear a yarmulke on your head. Whenever one is needed, it will be provided for you if you didn’t bring your own. This is true even at the Wailing Wall. One Rabbi says, “Anyone may wear a yarmulke. However, in Synagogue, everyone must year a yarmulke.”
- Bring a small flashlight for walking through Hezekiah’s Tunnel and for any locations we may visit at night.
- If your itinerary calls for you spending a night in a Bedouin camp, the entire group sleeps in a huge tent. Mats and pillows are provided. Bathrooms & showers are modern. This is an experience all our travelers have found amazing.
- It will help you to have memorized certain general historical dates prior to your arrival. Another Note will provide you with a Timeline of Israeli History.
- On any tour that has more than a few people, the most common ongoing difficulty will be the person or persons who hold up the rest of the group (ie. don’t respect the time the guide says we need to be through shopping, or the one or two who are always the last ones to catch up with the group while the guide waits to begin sharing). This may seem like a strange request, but over a period of many days, much time is wasted in this way. Try not to be the one for whom everyone else waits. If you don’t mind missing what is shared, just tell the guide and he will begin without you. But, please, don’t always be the last one on the bus!
- If the group is large enough, each individual will be assigned a number and we will “count off” before leaving a site. This can be a lot of fun. Also, someone may be asked to “bring up the rear” when the group is walking.
- During the tour, our guide’s cell phone may ring. Don’t let this bother you as guides constantly stay in touch with security.
- Don’t wander from the rest of the group unless you are told it is OK to do so. And, please ask your children not to run ahead of the guide (very common at stops). This can be problematic and, in some locations, even a security risk.
- People often have questions they consider silly or not worth asking in a group, so they approach the guide privately. It is better to assume your question is of interest to at least one other person. There is no stupid question whether it is about food or religious practices or when the next bathroom stop will be. Speak to the guide so everyone else can hear the question or comment and the response.
- Always be ready to take your bathing suit with you on the bus unless told not to. We never know when we will swim.
- Don’t forget to pack talcum powder.
- Be prepared for changes & surprises. Be flexible.
- Re: journals…Encourage any child old enough to take a Traveler’s Journal and take notes while on the tour. Our guide has often commented about our young people—how they appear so much more interested in what he shares than other young persons in his groups.
- Israel is a kind of museum with many ancient ruins. The most important advice I can give to travelers to Israel is, “Open your imagination. Where you see foundations, build walls. Add the roof. See the children playing in streets that are only dirt paths. Picture a little girl carrying water from the well to her humble home.” Your ability to have a vivid imagination while in Israel will mean everything for your time in the Land.
- Over the years, we have hosted many groups in Israel. When individuals and families take time to pray for the other members of the group (and for the group as a whole), we have noticed a significant difference in how the group gets along and their ability to receive what God is preparing for them. We have had young people come soon after losing a parent; a mother or father come after a spouse has died or they have been divorced. Couples come with hidden issues and troubled relationships. You never know why God has invited you, or others, to Israel, but there is much healing in the Promised Land. Please pray for one another before you meet!
- I will retell a story I once heard:
An old man was sitting in one of the squares of Jerusalem’s Old City leaning on his staff due to his advanced age. A group of children was playing close by.
A tour group watched the children as their guide diverted their attention to an ancient landmark.
“Do you see those children playing in the square?” asked the guide. “Yes, over there near where that old man is leaning on his staff. I want to call your attention to the pillar behind them. That pillar dates back two thousand, five-hundred years to the time of the prophet Zechariah.” Everyone in the group nodded in amazement.
Overhearing these words, the old man shook his head. He called out to the group, “What a bad tour guide you have,” he said with obvious disgust. “He should have said to you, ‘Do you see that pillar over there? I want to call your attention to the children playing in the square near that pillar and to the old man leaning on his staff due to his advanced age. Did you know that for 2,000 years our people have been praying to return to this city? These children you see, and me—the old man leaning of his staff—are the fulfillment of the prophecy Zechariah spoke 2,500 years ago and which said,
“Thus says the Lord of Hosts, ‘Old men and old women will again sit in the squares of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand due to his advanced age. And the squares of the city will again be filled with boys and girls playing in its squares.”’”
The old man concluded, “When tour guides tell this to visitors, the world will begin to understand redemption!”
I hope the information contained in this document has been helpful. I encourage you to read it aloud to all those in your family who are traveling together. Please read it once more right before leaving for Israel, especially those parts relating to how to act and relate to the people. You will have an unusual opportunity to interact with Jewish people in their land in a way not afforded by any “tour”. It is my prayer that you will return home with a deeper knowledge of the Bible, the God of the Bible, and the People of the Promised Land.
It has taken years to arrange this Experience for you. May the Lord meet you in His Land and among His people.