Israel is a very small Middle Eastern country that is full of culture, religion, and hidden gems. For those of us that identify as Jewish and have not had the pleasure of experiencing a trip to Israel, Taglit-Birthright Israel grants us this fabulous, once in a lifetime opportunity to visit a country so important to our religion.
I finally decided to cash in and take my free trip to Israel and could not have been more excited to head overseas for the first time ever! During my 10-day excursion, I visited and experienced some of the most beautiful and incredible places I have ever seen and I wanted to share some of my favorites, with some pictures of course.
1. Jordan River Rafting
Don't let “river rafting" scare you off from this experience, because it's not at all as rough as you think it's gonna be. Grab four to six of your friends, head to Israel, and jump in an inner tube to paddle down the Jordan River. When are you ever going to be able to say you rafted down a major famous river in a foreign country? Never, unless you take this opportunity. Don't be afraid to get a little rough with your friends, if they're okay with it, and soaks has each other and push each other into the water. It will be cold even on the hottest days, that's a promise. However, the experience of being in the Jordan River is so worth it.
This experience seriously changed my life, no joke. While on birthright, we stayed at the Bedouin tents- which I'm not going to lie, you should probably pass on that experience as a regular tourist. However, we walked up a hill on the grounds and stargazed in the desert. One of the leaders on my trip read us something to help us relax, clear our minds, and let go of all the bad, evil, and hateful things happening in our lives. This time of self-reflection was definitely needed for myself, in real life and to decompress a little from the long, exhausting trip I was on and inspired me to do some self-reflection more often.
3. Netanya Beach
I live in South Florida, and let me tell y'all, Netanya beach is one of the most breathtaking beaches I've ever seen. There are lots of people, especially on Shabbat where nobody drives, but it's honestly so serene and no one bothers you while you're laying out, playing ultimate frisbee in the crystal blue water, or grabbing a quick ice cream snack. If you are stopping here for a visit while you're in Israel, I also recommend you stay for sunset. You'll thank me when you see it.
4. Tel Aviv
This entire city is amazing that I just had to make it its own listicle. From the amazing beach to the city right behind it, I got major Miami Beach/NYC vibes. There are amazing places to go explore and eat in this hub of Israel, so be sure to check out as much as you can! There are even different types of tours (biking, food, graffiti, walking) that you can take to see one of the most amazing cities in the world! The Ha'Carmel Outdoor Market is a great experience for tourists to experience real Israeli culture and even do a little bargaining at the stands and shops. There are even some cute places to take pictures so keep your eyes open for cute insta-picture spots!!
Also: for those of you that like cultural deserts, there's is amazing Muhallebi (milk pudding) at the market. I didn't think I'd be a fan, but you just have to trust me on this like I trusted the native Israelis on my trip.
5. Western Wall
By far the most religious destination in all of Israel, but a place every Jew should head to on their visits to pray. Make sure you bring a little pen and paper to leave a wish at the wall and be respectful of others there that may be more religious than yourself.
Pro tips for the Western Wall: Don’t turn your back to the wall and girls: cover up!! Wear a skirt/dress that is at least knee length and bring a shawl that covers at least to your elbows!
6. Golan Heights
This breathtaking view is reason enough to come here, but it’s even more meaningful seeing as you’re at the Syrian/Israel Border. Israel is known for its hikes, and Golan Heights is easily the least challenging and shortest of the hikes the country has to offer. Just an uphill walk to see something most people never get to experience. I’d for sure recommend this one, and it’s a cute photo op.
7. Yad Vashem
This museum should be one of the first things you decide to do in Israel, and definitely invest in a tour guide. There is so much symbolism and many real artifacts of the Holocaust that makes this experience unlike any other.
8. Mount Herzl
This amazing memorial is a graveyard to honor fallen soldiers of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). This place creates truly moving and emotional experiences and is definitely a must do to feel in touch with Jewish heritage. I was lucky enough to be able to experience this place with currently active and serving IDF soldiers and watching them see their own, or even their friends, reminds me of what I'm grateful for.
9. Dead Sea
Obviously a straight-up tourist destination, but a cool one at that. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth and it's super easy to float. So go get your relaxation on here, but be sure to bring water shoes as the ocean floor is salt rock. Another pro tip, cover up any open wounds and don't shave right before you go- this water is extremely salty and will sting vulnerable skin.
10. Machane Yehuda at night
This outdoor market turns into a trendy nightlife after sundown. With many shops and restaurants turning into bars, Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem is the place to be after dark.
11. Camel Riding
I actually almost forgot to put this on the list and I'm upset with myself because this was a huge highlight of my trip. People genuinely and literally ride camels in Israel. Find a place, do it. You will not regret it. Probably my one of my most favorite parts about my trip.
Israel is such a cultural place with so many sights to see and things to do. I hope you take my advice and visit these amazing places and do these amazing things, but don't stop here. Venture out beyond these sights and activities and make sure you maximize your Israel experience to include everything the beautiful country has to offer, should you choose to visit.
Most importantly, make sure you eat lots of pita, hummus, Israeli salad, shawarma, and falafel! Oh and for those of you that are 18 and older, drink some Tubi and Goldstar responsibly!!
Yalla (that means “let's go" in Hebrew) on over to Israel and happy traveling!!