Given the extensive length of our trip to Israel, we have chosen to break it into four parts, one for each general location we visited. This post is about Jerusalem.
On our way to Jerusalem, we stopped at Masada, Ein Gedi, Qumran, and the Dead Sea. Although there is a lot to see at Masada, you don’t have to see it all to get a good sense of the place. The most meaningful location for us was the synagogue, where a sefer was working on a Torah. It was also incredible to see the grave sites near the Roman Ramp, where two people at Masada killed by falling columns were buried with full military honors by a Jewish state 2,000 years later. What a story! Note that you only need to go to Masada once, with a good guide.
Ein Gedi, on the other hand, I would visit again and again. Although we didn’t make it up to David’s Waterfall this time around, I reviewed the extensive hiking prior to our trip. You can fill many days with hiking, but the scenery never gets old.
Qumran was… interesting, especially if you’re into mikvaot (ritual baths). It was quite an experience to see where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. However, I would more highly recommend going to see the Scrolls themselves in Jerusalem, a much more important part of history.
I would skip the Dead Sea every time. It is uncomfortable and crowded. Give me a normal beach any day!
Now: Jerusalem. We stayed at the Bezalel Hotel, which was in a great location: only a 20 minute walk to Jaffa Gate and 5 to Ben Yehudah Street. However, some of the rooms overlooked the very noisy street. If they can accommodate a request for a room at the back, this was a great choice. Kosher breakfast, too!
Speaking of food, we ate some spectacular dishes in Jerusalem. Jacko’s Street for burgers, Piccolino for dairy, Eucalyptus for something a bit more unique, and La Regence at the King David Hotel for the 5-star food and 5-star history. Be sure to get to the King David before sunset so that you’ll have time to take pictures from the balcony.
There are so many amazing things to do in Jerusalem. You must visit the City of David and bring a private tour guide (it’s worth the cost). Definitely step through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, but be sure to bring water shoes. Also visit the Davidson Center where you can enjoy the Egalitarian prayer wall and the southern steps of the Temple. Honestly, the Kotel is beautiful at night, but I can’t stomach the disparity in size of the men’s and women’s sections.
Spend at least one day in West Jerusalem, visiting the Knesset, the Supreme Court, and Yad Vashem. Although I hate visiting Yad Vashem, I don’t think it is a complete trip without doing so, particularly the Children’s House, which is similar to torture. Remember to say Kaddish and take in the view of Jerusalem afterwards.
The Israel Museum is a must see, and open on Shabbat. You can purchase tickets in advance, but you must go through an electronic turn-style (depending on your observance this might bother you).
We highly recommend spending one full (or half) day exploring the Jerusalem Hills. We visited the tank museum at Latrun, a harp store called House of Harrari, and bell caves at Beit Guvrin. The first was not-to-be-missed. The second was lovely, but only if you’re into music and want to purchase a door harp for your home. The last was a definite skip: cool surroundings, but not meaningful in any way.
Finally, shopping! Do not miss the Cardo – a narrow alleyway full of shops in the Old City. Ben Yehuda Street on Saturday night is always a blast, too. The Israel Museum gift shop is fabulous. We found a wonderful jewelry shop on our way to Piccolino (I believe it was on Shamai Street). It was expensive, but I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a significant token to remember Jerusalem.