Ask any travel guide the must-see places to visit during a spring break trip to Israel and you might hear suggestions like the Western Wall, Tower of David, Yad Vashem, Masada or Independence Hall. While there’s good reason these rank among Israel’s top attractions, there’s more to the Holy Land than meets the average tourist eye.
Siblings Brandon and Lily have both experienced Israel through USCJ’s Nativ college leadership program (Brandon participated last year and Lily is currently there). Nativ is a tremendous opportunity for young adults to live, learn, make friends and explore Israel for an unforgettable year before college, which makes these two Nativers the perfect guides to the more meaningful side of Israel.
Here, Brandon and Lily each share their top five lists of places they found surprisingly meaningful to add to your own Israel itinerary:
Brandon’s Top Five
1) Hike from Mediterranean Sea to Kinneret: Over Pesach break, five friends and I hiked from the Mediterranean Sea to the Kinneret in Northern Israel. At the time, we were living in Tiberias, so we were hiking from the sea, back home. It took us about three days and was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. This time in Israel is when the whole country is out hiking, so we had a lot of people on the trail with us, giving us tips along the way. Hiking through the most beautiful country in the world, being able to experience the landscape, traveling through farms and under a crusader castle, stopping to take a dip in a natural spring and so many other things made this an experience of a lifetime. On the second night of the hike, we ended our 20-plus-mile day in a small, religious town. We were tired, could barely feel our legs and were sitting behind a bathroom. The one American in the whole town found us, invited us into his house, cooked food for us, told us stories and pointed us to a park to sleep in for the night. Things like this make Israel the most unique place in the world.
2) Nachalot: This is a neighborhood in Jerusalem filled with history and beautiful streets. The neighborhood has many small shuls scattered throughout it, always welcoming anyone who wants to daven. Walking around this neighborhood at night and during the day is one of my favorite things to do in Jerusalem.
3) Yad Binyamin: One shabbos weekend, my friend and I went to stay with family friends in the Jerusalem suburb of Yad Binyamin. The town is very American, but uniquely Israeli. Everywhere I went, I noticed that everyone knew each other—and not like a casual neighbor. The whole neighborhood was truly a big family. Everyone shared responsibility for one another. All the children trusted the adults like they were aunts or uncles. I have never ever seen anything like it.
4) Kibbutz: This may be stating the obvious, but staying on a kibbutz may be one of the most amazing experiences anyone could have. Similar to Yad Binyamin, everyone was working together for the common good. In America, it’s hard to find camaraderie even close to that shared by Israelis.
5) Jerusalem: Jerusalem during Shabbat is perhaps the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced. And each shabbos was different. If you are in Jerusalem for Shabbat, the one thing I would beg anyone to do is walk. Just walk until your feet hurt. Then walk a little more. Don’t take your phone; just wander aimlessly. Everywhere you look, you’ll see glimpses of lives being carried out. You may see religious children playing or an old man reading a book. Whatever it is, you may stumble upon something magnificent. I know I did, many times.
Lily’s Top Five
1) Kibbutz Tzuba: Whether it is for a day trip to clear your mind or a relaxing Shabbat, spending time at a kibbutz is one of my favorite experiences in Israel. Less than an hour outside of Jerusalem, Kibbutz Tzuba is the ideal place to spend the day. I went with a few friends when I was in need of a relaxing day outside of the busy life in Jerusalem. Situated on top of a hill, there are many hiking trails around, a small amusement park for kids and a chocolate workshop. I spent the day wandering, adventuring to nearby Roman ruins and walking through an apple orchard. Spending a Shabbat on a kibbutz is one experience you could not get anywhere else in the world.
2) Yemin Moshe: This is one of the most famous places to visit in Israel. Most tourists come here for Kabbalat Shabbat or on Shabbat mornings. While this is an unforgettable experience, I enjoy walking around on a quieter day. The scenery is beautiful and there’s an amazing artists’ colony. It also has one of the best lookouts to the whole city.
3) Tzfat: Spending time in Tzfat, no matter how long or short, can change a person. On Shabbat, while the restaurants and shops typical to the Tzfat experience are closed, you can walk and walk for hours up and down the windy streets, finding different shuls, observing people and always seeing beautiful views. You never know who are going to meet. My friends and I rented a place to stay for the weekend. We arrived without any food, but the family who we rented the place from invited us for Shabbat dinner. We spent most of the weekend with them as they showed us the city. We had never met this family before and had no connections to them, but they treated us like we had known them for years.
4) Bahai Gardens in Haifa: This is a wonderful way to experience a different religion while still in Israel. Most people stay at the top of the gardens to see the spectacular symmetry of the landscape and get a full view of the city and sea in Haifa. However, if you walk to the bottom, you can actually enter the gardens to walk around.
5) Nachalot on a Shabbat: One of my favorite experiences in Israel happened on a Shabbat in Jerusalem. My friend and I didn’t want to go to just one shul for services as we wanted to experience many different types. In Nachalot, we went to 10 different congregations all within two hours. Walking around the streets, we met so many people who invited us into their homes either for food or just to sit down and chat for a little.
Learn more about USCJ’s Nativ college leadership program in Israel.