Jaffa: the Old City of Tel Aviv

Thoroughly modern Tel Aviv is at heart a pioneer city, progressive on many fronts, socially and culturally vital, with cutting-edge arts and food; a mecca for start-ups of all kinds and ranked #2 in the world for high-tech innovation in 2013. Go to Tel Aviv for the beaches, the food, the modern architecture, the museums and galleries, but while there, don’t miss ancient Jaffa (Yafo), the seed of this shimmery metropolis.

Built on an elevated, blunt headland, Jaffa’s long views and natural harbor offered security and industry at least back to the Bronze Age. It’s one of the world’s oldest ports. A short list of landlords includes Canaanites, Egyptians, Philistines, Israelites, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, and Ottomans.

Christians know Jaffa as the site of Peter’s vision on the roof of Simon the Tanner’s house which compelled him to preach to Gentiles, as well as Jews (Acts 10:5-23).
It was also in Jaffa that Peter raised Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:36-42). These events are commemorated in Jaffa at Simon the Tanner’s House, the Russian Orthodox Church of Tabitha and the Church of St. Peter.

Jaffa is also the place from which Jonah set out on his fishy adventure told in the Biblical Book of Jonah and in the Koran.

Visit Jaffa for its history but also for galleries, shops, restaurants and bars. The flea market, just east of the clock tower at the entrance of Old Jaffa is jammed with everything from trendy clothes to antiques to unapologetic junk. Spend a few daytime hours taking in the romantic, old-world ambience. Follow the narrow, cobbled streets which weave up and around, from the port to the top of the hill, opening periodically onto intimate little squares. At Jaffa’s main plaza, Kikar Kedumim, you’ll find St. Peter’s Church and the visitor’s center/museum, which is built around Roman-era excavations and also exhibits artifacts from other digs in the area.

Above Kedumim Square is Summit Park, the highest point in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, with great views of Tel Aviv and the sea. Within the park, Ra’amses Gate Garden encompasses remains of an Egyptian fortress.

Jaffa is at the southern end of Tel Aviv, easily reached on foot or bike along the waterfront promenade.

If you’re in Tel Aviv to party, don’t miss Jaffa after dark.

Safed

the view from Safed, looking out over the Sea of Galilee, photo courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

the view from Safed, looking out over the Sea of Galilee, photo courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Safed (also spelled Tsfat, Tzfat, and a number of other ways) is a town in the Upper Galilee region in the far north of Israel. It’s one of the few cities in Israel that has been continuously inhabited by a Jewish community for over 2,000 years. At an elevation of 3,000 feet, it’s the highest town in the country, with views out across the Galilee, the Golan Heights and Mt. Meron.

Safed is one of the 4 holy cities in Judaism (along with Jerusalem, Hebron, and Tiberias). According to legend, the Messiah will come through Safed on the way to Jerusalem and the great Kabbalist Yitzhak Luria taught that the divine presence of the Lord will reside in Safed until the building of the 3rd Temple. Legend also tells that the sons of Noah settled in Safed and established a religious school, where Jacob later studied.

In the 16th century, after the Jews were expelled from Spain, Safed became a center of Kabbalah (mystical Judaism) and Jewish learning. Yitzhak Luria, known as Ha ARI (the Lion) studied with renowned rabbis there and went on to develop his own interpretations of sacred texts and pass them on to his own students. His mostly oral teachings were written down by students and went on to have immense influence on the practice of Medieval Judaism and are the basis for the study and practice of most Kabbalah still today.

Safed, Israel

Safed, Israel

Safed, Israel

Safed, Israel

In Safed you’ll find a charming, labyrinthine old town to stroll about, Medieval synagogues, lots and lots of art galleries and artists’ workshops, and stellar views in all directions. In particular, look for the beautiful Abuhav Synagogue and the Sephardic Ha ARI Synagogue, where the Lion himself spent many hours studying and teaching.

Abuhav Synagogue, Safed, Israel, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of IMOT

Abuhav Synagogue, Safed, Israel, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of IMOT

art gallery, Safed, Israel, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of IMOT

art gallery, Safed, Israel, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of IMOT

kabbalist artist, Safed, Israel

kabbalist artist, Safed, Israel

The annual Safed Klezmer Festival is held in August. Performers from all over Israel and the world play venues around town, many open-air, galleries set up shop in the streets and the whole place parties for three days. Klezmer music is a genre of celebratory, secular music, which originated with Eastern European Jews. Check it out below.

Driving time from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv to Safed is about 2-2.5 hours, from Tiberias it’s about 40 minutes.

See tours that include Safed here.

NAME THAT COUNTRY Episode 62

The architecture around Bialik Square is a small representation of thousands of Bauhaus buildings built in the 1920s and 30s in the largest and first modern city of our mystery country. Because of the large collection of Bauhaus buildings, many of which were whitewashed to keep them cooler in the Mediterranean heat, this original area of the city is known as the White City and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bialik Square is named for the national poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik, whose home, now a museum, is just off the square, on a street which also carries his name. The white building pictured is the recently restored former Town Hall, now a museum and civic center.

Can you name that country? 
See below for answers.

Continue reading

Foto Friday – Israel

All the images in this post are courtesy of our friends at the Israel Ministry of Tourism.

Church of Mary Magdalene, photo by Noam Chen

Church of Mary Magdalene, photo by Noam Chen

Mona Lisa of the Galilee at Zippori, photo by Itamar Grinberg

Mona Lisa of the Galilee at Zippori, photo by Itamar Grinberg

Continue reading

Foto Friday – Beaches

Beach holidays are not our specialty. For the most part, American travelers do not cross the Atlantic ocean to lie on a beach. However, many do work a couple of R&R days into otherwise busy cultural itineraries. In any case, while much of the US is still suffering the epic winter of 2015, we offer this brief, mental escape to gentler climes.

Abu Dhabi, UAE

Abu Dhabi, UAE

Paradise Beach, Corfu, Greece

Paradise Beach, Corfu, Greece

Continue reading

Israel Border Crossing, the Outs and Ins

We get a lot of questions about Israel border crossing. It’s very common to combine Israel and Jordan as travel destinations and somewhat common to combine Israel and Egypt. Continue reading