A recent report published by Ernst & Young concluded that the nation of Israel provides “a very high density of experience” for its tourists. Many agree. In 2012, 3,499,998 visited this V-shaped country in the Middle East, flanked by Egypt to the west and Jordan to the east. We decided to join that group to make it an even 3.5 million.

Why visit “the Holy Land”? For one, this country houses Jerusalem—one of the oldest and most eclectic cities in the world. In addition, Israel offers historical and religious sites, beach resorts, archaeology, ecotourism, and the highest number of museums per capita in the world. Israel is unique because it is the spiritual center for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. However, even if you’re not religious, Israel is a place that should on every bucket list. Since we’re Christian, we will emphasize that perspective in this piece, but we will point out items of interest for the other groups previously mentioned.

We landed in Tel Aviv (Israel’s second largest city and the nation’s economic hub) at Ben Gurion International—one of the most secure airports in the world. Most nations recognize Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel and have their embassies there, but most Jews claim Jerusalem is the capital. We didn’t have much time to tool around in Tel Aviv, but many tourists enjoy their time in the self-proclaimed “party capital” of Israel.
Instead, we went north to the Gallilee region. This is the location where Jesus is presumed to have spent much of his life. In 2011, Israel unveiled the “Jesus Trail”—a 40-mile hiking route which links many sites from his life, including Nazareth, Tzippori, Cana, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Tabgha, and the Mount of Beatitudes. An alternate return route features the Jordan River, Mount Tabor, and Mount Precipice. Non-Christians might enjoy some of these sites as well as the Horns of Hattin, the Mount Arbel cliffs, and the Golan Heights. We particularly enjoyed the relaxing moments on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and as we took a boat ride on the waters. Also memorable was a fish dinner at one of many restaurants on the waterfront. In the Galilee area we were introduced to two popular local menu items—schnitzel (a breaded chicken) and falafel (a pita filled with hummus). However, we ate them so frequently we began referring to the latter as “feel awful.”
We next travelled south to Masada–Israel’s most popular paid tourist attraction. This impressive ancient fortification on top of a rock plateau overlooking the Dead Sea is the location where Herod the Great built palaces and fortifications from 37-31 B.C. Tourists have two options to get from the base to the top: walk or tram ride.

The Dead Sea, the lowest elevation in the world, has attracted visitors for thousands of years. This location has become a major center for health research and treatment (including climatotherapy, heliotherapy, and thalassotherapy) due to its climate, location, and 33.7% salinity. We aren’t quite that sophisticated and instead just enjoyed floating in the dense seawater.
The next stop on our tour was the Jerusalem—a UNESCO World Heritage site. Jerusalem means “City of Peace” which is ironic because it has been besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, and destroyed twice. The oldest part of Jerusalem, which is walled, is only .35 square miles is often called “the Old City.” Today, it is divided into four quarters: Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. Each of these quarters has a distinctive flavor and all offer shops and restaurants to tourists. Must-see sites in the Old City include the Temple Mount and Western Wall (significant to the Jews), the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque (important to the Muslims), and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (sacred to the Christians).
Just west of the Old City is the Mount of Olives. There you can visit the Garden of Gethsemane and the Chapel of Ascension—priority points of interest for the Christian. And you won’t want to miss a 45-60 minute tour of the impressive Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center—a beautiful building on Mount Scopus which provides one of the most stunning views of the Mount of Olives, the Kidron Valley, and the Old City. Particularly impressive is the special events auditorium which houses one of Israel’s finest organs.

Surrounding the Old City is modern Jerusalem. Here you will want to visit the sobering Yad Veshem—a memorial to the victims of the Jewish Holocaust. Other intriguing tourist attractions are the Bible Lands Museum, the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, and the Israel Museum (which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls).

Less than 10 miles southeast of Jerusalem is the city of Bethlehem. The “House of Bread” is believed to be the location where Jesus was born and is home to one of the largest Christian communities, although this population has diminished. In fact, the city is governed today by the Palestinian National Authority and has a Muslim majority. While there, be sure to spend some time at the Shepherds’ Fields, the Church of the Nativity, and Rachel’s Tomb.

One website touts “3506 things to do in Israel.” Unfortunately, our trip wasn’t lengthy enough to encompass that, but the hundred or so things we did see were inspiring, educating, and amazing. And we look forward to returning again to work on the 3400 things we missed.



Note: We are grateful to our guides—Larry & Jynene Johnson of Johnson Family Tours—for their professionalism and care while we visited Israel.

For hotel managers, the days are busy and generally fly by with nary a nod. Yet occasionally the regular routine may give way to the extraordinary! During my time as general manager of the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, I was fortunate enough through the years to experience the extraordinary when welcoming several dignitaries and high-level diplomats to the hotel.While the prime minister of Israel, the president of Israel, members of the Knesset and numerous celebrities and public figures were almost daily visitors, none of the visits stand out in my memory more than those of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on multiple occasions, and the State visit by President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
When contemplating the arrival of Secretary Rice, I was determined to make her stay memorable in a way that she would remember the David Citadel as ‘different’ from all the other hotels she was accustomed to staying at in the Middle East. I remembered that she was quoted as having said that if she had not been appointed Secretary of State, she would like to have been the AFL commissioner!
As it happened, the Super Bowl took place while she was at the hotel, but due to the time difference it was broadcast in the middle of the night. I arranged to have it recorded, and as she was departing the hotel, I presented it to her as ‘the in-flight sports entertainment’ for her trip back to Washington. I remember that the Patriots were playing and won, and I seem to recall she is a Patriot fan. She wrote me a letter on February 16, 2005, thanking me for taping the Super Bowl and for making her stay enjoyable. You can imagine my panic when she next visited my hotel. The NFL season was over and I had no idea how I would make this visit stand out — until I had a great idea. The Secretary may be a fan of the AFL, but I am a diehard fan of Liverpool Football (soccer to you North Americans!) Club. I still have friends living in the Liverpool area from my school days in England.

My team had just won the Champions league against Milan in Turkey on a penalty shootout, after trailing by three goals. It was a superbly entertaining match, full of action. I had a recording of the game and decided it was time to convert the Secretary to a Liverpool supporter. Again, as she took her leave of the hotel, I presented her the ‘footy’ tape for her in-flight sport entertainment with the wish that she would be a convert to the fair game of soccer. Needless to say, that July I received another wonderful letter from Ms. Rice, thanking me again for the soccer tape and also for the comfortable stay at my hotel.
On her final visit to the David Citadel during my tenure as general manager, I again waited to say goodbye in the indoor parking lot. As I shook her hand, I asked if she was now a Liverpool fan. She did a small dance and stated, “Liverpool fan! Why not, yes. Liverpool, the Beatles and all that!” Then she got into her Suburban and was whisked off to Ben
Gurion airport. I am sure that those tapes made the difference in her memory of which hotel stood out in her world travels.

I also had the honor to welcome President Putin and shake his hand, but his visit stands out in my mind more for the story of his bulletproof Mercedes limousine.

It was flown in from Russia especially for the visit and guarded night and day in the hotel underground parking lot. I took aside one of the English-speaking Russians in his mission and requested that he show me the limo. It was a great experience! The windows were made of two-inch thick
glass, the tires were of solid rubber to prevent blowouts and the body was bulletproof. I was also amazed at how much communication equipment was in that limo — like a travelling Kremlin!

In any case, I said to the English-speaking Russian about the driver, a rather gruff-looking fellow, “Tell him that I know that these Mercedes cars are very unreliable vehicles, prone to breaking down and, that should he need it, my Peugeot 407 would be at the service of the President!” The driver took a long look at me, then at his fellow Russian, and thinking that I was serious, answered in Russian, “Tell this man that one of the tires on my Mercedes is worth more than his whole car.” I burst out laughing.

Another day in the life of a hotel manager!

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Knowing I was to visit Jerusalem, Karola, a New York friend asked me to convey regards to friends of hers, a family named “Mor.” Karola wrote out the address for me (viz.) “Alfassiii, Jerusalem.”

A few weeks later in Jerusalem I found myself with free time and decided to deliver the regards. I searched for the street and found one called “Alfassi.” Studying the written address in my hand, I deduced that it was misspelled. My friend had written “Alfassiii,” – which would have meant House No. 3 (using Roman numerals). She probably got the street name wrong, calling it “Alfass.”


Can YOU Find The Difference?

In any case, I went to House No. 3, saw the name “Mor” listed in the lobby, climbed two flights and rang the bell. An eye peered through the peephole and a middle-aged woman opened the door. I introduced myself. “I am from New York,” I said. “I have regards from your friend Karola.”

“Please come in,” said the welcoming lady of the house. “We’re just having lunch, won’t you join us ?” An extra chair was squeezed in, making over ten diners around the table digging into heaping platters of food.

After some fifteen minutes of chatty small talk sprinkled with approving comments on the tasty dishes, the hostess turned and asked me politely, “Who did you say you had regards from ? I didn’t quite catch the name…”

“Karola…Karola Swenson,” I replied, with a growing feeling of embarrassment.
An awkward silence followed. She glanced quizzically at the other guests around the table.

“ I’m afraid we don’t know this lady,” she said.

I abruptly rose to leave. “Oh, never mind,” she said. “Please sit down,” she insisted. “We are happy to have you here.”

Three hearty courses later, I finally did take leave, with profuse thanks and my repeated apologies that a mistake had been made.
Mrs. Mor and her family reassured me, “It was a pleasure to have you with us. Please do come again.”

Outside in ‘Alfass’ Street, I pondered the mystery. Had they really forgotten their old friend, Karola? But she had their correct address…
Or – could the correct address have been Alfassi 2 (Alfassi ii) ?

I crossed the street and reread the street sign carefully. It was Alfassi and therefore the correct address should have been “Alfassi 2. I checked the residents’ names at Alfassi 2. Surely enough, there was the name Mor. I pushed the buzzer, dreading the thought of another meal. Luckily no one was home.