What did I learn: ISRAEL (Part 2)

Old City, Jerusalem

I already did a whole month on Israel (it actually was the second country I covered), but this month has been a part 2, as I had the great opportunity to travel to Israel for the first time this month. It’s also the first time I’ve been out of the country since the pandemic started – last time was Sep 2019 to Mexico City.

Masada and the Dead Sea

I covered a lot of turf in the three weeks I was in Israel: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Golan Heights, Haifa, Nazareth, the Dead Sea, plus trips into the Palestinian Territories and Jordan. There was just so much to take in – the historical sites, the religious sites, the food, the conflicts, the politics, the diversity, and the stuff I had no idea about before I even went.

The Ethiopian section of Church of the Holy Sepulchre

There’s no way I can capture my whole experience, but I hope I’ve been able to share a bit of what hit me most. One of the things that hit me, especially as we stood on a lookout with some UN officers into what had been a Syrian warzone only a few years ago, was just how small and packed-together everything is. There’s little room to maneuver for anyone.

One of the best pictures I’ve taken in my life, up on the Golan Heights looking into Syria

Likewise, getting to see the most contested and controversial piece of real estate in the world, the Temple Mount, is something that I’ll remember my whole life. Touching the Western Wall, working my way up to the Dome of the Rock, and seeing these historic and modern flashpoints in person will definitely change how I see the next time that conflict breaks out.

The middle of it all

And speaking of conflict, getting to experience a “weekend war” of rockets from Gaza? As an Israeli friend put it, I definitely got the real Israel experience. Israelis really do treat attacks the way we Canadians take bad winter weather – be careful on the roads, but not a reason to panic.

That’s not the only conflict I got to witness. I’m still so pleased that, among all the contested and historic religious sites, I got to see the most important one of all: the immovable ladder.

Jesus’ tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

I also got to see some of realities that Israelis deal with every day, including a trip to the Knesset in the middle of the fifth election in three years. I was also hit hard by the fast-moving environmental disaster of the Dead Sea, likely to be gone in my lifetime. It enjoyed floating in it while I could.

(I also avoided getting sunburned to hell, somehow)

But Israel isn’t all conflict and tension, there were so many beautiful, fun, or even mundane things that I loved. The Haifa Carmelit. Good dark comedy. Cats everywhere. The Tel Aviv beaches. The markets. The fast train between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The moment Avi, one of the best tour guides I’ve ever met, read out in his New York accent the last stand of the Jews from Josephus, as we stood on the spot on Masada itself.

I can also now say on good authority that 36C and 80% humidity is much worse than 44C and desert-dry. I’m already a winter person, but my god, if I ever complain about the snow in Ottawa, I’m going to remember just how sweaty Tel Aviv was.

Jaffa, Tel Aviv

Best of all on this trip was the food. So much amazing food and drink, and fresher than anything you’d get in Canada – I don’t think I can have hummus or falafel here anymore, there’s no competition.

And just to cap it off, this shirt is definitely on my “most hilariously out-of-pocket souvenir” list.

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