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 northern Israel: the Galilee and the Golan.
On our way north, we made several wonderful stops. Beit Alpha is a sixth century synagogue for those of you interested in the old stuff. Similarly, Beit She’an is a Roman city destroyed in the eighth century by an earthquake. At the beginning of the diaspora, this city was approximately 40% Jewish – slightly higher than some of the towns we live in today!
More modern, and potentially meaningful, were our stops at the Kinneret Cemetary and BioBee, a Kibbutz pioneering more environmentally friendly farming practices. Both are worth a stop, although you’ll want a Hebrew-speaking guide at the cemetery. We stopped for lunch at Shipudei Hakikar, a truly authentic and tasty shwarma place, which we highly recommend.
We stayed at Nof Ginosar in the Galilee… what can I say? This upscale hostel appeared clean until we found a 3-inch long bug in the bathroom. It was a little too far south in terms of visiting some of the northernmost Israeli sites, too. It was kosher, though! Still, I would recommend staying someplace else. Unfortunately for us, all of the other kosher places had been booked several months in advance.
We did so many cool things in the Galilee/Golan, from a jeep ride, to visiting Tel Dan, to partaking in local delicacies at De Karina Chocolates. We also made sure to stop by the Hula Valley Nature Reserve with its beautiful landscapes and multitudes of fauna sightings. We visited the Galil Mountain Winery for a wonderful wine tasting – albeit with a Canadian Birthright group – and Zippori and Bar-am National Parks. These final two are early diaspora, similar to Beit Alpha and Beit She’an. Honestly, you don’t have to go to all of them. I would more strongly recommend Beit Alpha and Beit She’an, although I found Bar’am moving. Bring a private guide to get the most out of them.
We also went to Tzfat for half a day, although we arrived so late that the shops were shutting down and the Caro Synagogue closed. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of Tzfat; there are other great shopping areas. It is cozy and beautiful to walk through, but I wouldn’t go back.
The final two activities we did in the north included a trip to Kibbutz Malkia and a meeting with kibbutznik David Leichman. During the first, our guide Eitan showed us around the kibbutz and then proceeded to take us up to the Lebanese border. We met a small group of IDF soldiers stationed there. Fortunately, Eitan had prepared us for this meeting with a quick supply run for the soldiers at the grocery store. This was a wonderful experience. Just seeing the soldiers and talking to them brought their reality (and Israeli reality) to life. One warning: dress appropriately. There’s no mud like army mud.
The meeting with David Leichman had its ups and downs. We first walked together through Ramla and met his deceased friend’s son (an Israeli Christian Arab) over a very inexpensive but delicious hummus lunch. Although the food was out of this world, the conversation quickly became uncomfortable. David’s friend had a great deal of anger for Israel, and wouldn’t talk to us in a calm manner. We left feeling discouraged, without having learned anything in particular. Afterwards, David took us to his home where we met his lovely family and sampled his delicious homemade ice cream. Overall, an interesting experience, but not worth the $500 price tag.
Finally: restaurants in the north! If you stay at Nof Ginosar, do not eat there! It was $75 per person and not the best food. Decks Restaurant on the shore of Kinneret in Tverya (Tiberias) was wonderful. We also had a great meal at HaAri in Tzfat.