The Best of Israel – Travel Review

Rick Steve’s Europe Travel program goes to Israel.  In this 26 minute episode, produced with Oregon Public Television, you’ll be immersed into a visual whirlwind of much of what Israel has to offer.

Rick’s insightful commentary accompanies his travels with a generally favorable account of Israel’s main tourist attractions.  He meets up with locals at restaurants and on the streets to get a sense of the the cultural climate.

However, much of the commentary is shaded with the American brand of “political correctness” and the need to try and show the Palestinian side.  This is a highly simplistic accounting of what Israel has to offer.

So much is missing, that I’d be remiss to even mention a few of them. At least 1/2 of the episode focuses on religion.  Jewish, Moslem, and Christian holy places.  The author does, however,  succeed in only 26 minutes, to give enough of a sampling that viewers will want to see more.

Flying to Israel with Continental vs. US Airways

Since 1994 I’ve traveled over 100 transatlantic flights, mostly between the USA and Israel.  I am sharing my experiences here about different airlines that travel to and from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.

In this article we’ll focus on Continental Airlines who is merging with United Airlines in 2011, with it’s hub in Newark, New Jersey, and US Airways, which flies out of its Philadelphia hub.  Both airlines are competent and match evenly on features.  Each offers daily flights and adds flights during busy seasons.

Coach Travel Flying Comparison Chart

Continental / United US Airways
Aircraft Boeing 777 Airbus A330-300
Hub in USA Newark Philadelphia
Coach Seat Configuration 3 – 3 – 3 2 – 4 – 2
Kosher food rating B

Dinner, mid flight sandwich, and light breakfast served


Dinner and light breakfast served

Coach Seat Features head rests, electric plug for every two seats Leather, arm rests lift up, USB power connector at every seat
Entertainment Personal Touch screen, hundreds of movies (over 200), dozens of TV shows, music, and games. Personal touch screen, dozens of movies, tv shows, games (not free), music on demand
Bathrooms / Lavatories 6 in coach 4 in coach, no standing area to wait in line, very cramped
Galley drinks, snacks, after meal service drinks after meal service, snacks in galley.
Hub Airport Newark is a big airport, security lines are long, shopping is decent Philadelphia is a medium size airport, security lines are shorter, no body scan machine yet as of Jan 2011.
Cabin Crew Plentiful, pleasant, and efficient, Hebrew speaker always on staff. Nice crew
Advantages Bigger plane, more room to stretch in the cabin on a long flight. Great entertainment system. Good connections with Continental / United to anywhere in USA from Newark. 2 seats on window vs 3 on Continental, Philly is an easier airport to navigate. Great for avoiding New York.
Disadvantages Newark Airport. 3 seats on window. Tougher to get in and out. Seat pitch is less than on 747. make sure to bring a neck pillow. Smaller plane, cabin crew takes seats near lavatories, absolutely no room to stretch. You are stuck in your seat the entire flight.
Frequent Flyer One Pass Star Alliance. Easy to book award travel online. Many seats are blocked out, though. Continental has a local office in Tel Aviv. Offers 25,000 miles if you sign up and take their credit card. Award travel easy to book online generally with similar miles needed as continental (25,000 for domestic round trip).
Price Tends to be as pricey as El Al Usually less expensive than Continental
Overall Score B+ B

Please share with us your experiences.

New Travel Restrictions – Might as well stay home…

New Airline Security RulesI am no security expert, but I am a relatively experienced international flyer.  I can tell you this, the new travel restrictions on flights to and from the USA make me very uninterested in flying.  I suppose that’s what the Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are hoping for as much as their more dastardly plans.

New travel restrictions placed on flights to the USA include:

1. First and last hour of flight, you must remain in your seat, legs open, no blanket, no PDA/ipod, no going to washroom, no opening the overhead compartment.

2. No GPS in flight map system so you can’t see on a map where the plane is on your journey.  Especially miserable for a 12+ hour flight.

3. No internet

4. For systems (like JetBlue) where the GPS is intertwined with the entertainment system, there will be no TV the entire flight.  How about that?

On a flight from Tel Aviv to New York, you can expect to sit for 12 hours with your hands on your lap, (legs open), no blanket, no tv, no in flight maps, and holding it in, lest you dare make a dash for the toilets.  I’m wondering if this is any better than the sea voyages our grandparents endured in a bygone era?

Silly question…what if the flight is from Hong Kong to New Jersey, and the last four hours of the filght are over the United States, will passengers be required to remain in their seats the entire time?  Why is TSA security so reactionary?  There has to be a better way!

3 Men to Take Out the Torah – Peticha in America

An old joke waiting to be told:
How many Jews does it take to open the Ark and take out the Torah? Normally, the answer is one. Ok, I’ve seen in some synagouges two. How about three?

The synagouge service on days were the Torah includes an honor called “peticha” which litterally means “opening”. The honor is bestowed on a member or guest to go an open the Ark where the Torah scrolls are kept. He then takes out one of the Torahs and hands it to the Chazan (cantor) who brings the Torah to the bimah where it is unwound and read.

Three beats one:
I was visiting a synagogue in Chicago. This is a typical modern-orthodox American model. Here, the ceremony is as important as the actual prayers. Spotted as a guest, I was asked by the gabbai to go and take out the Torah and hand it to the chazan.

I walked up to the Ark and I saw two other men standing there as well. I turned back to the gabbai and asked what gives. He said each of the men would open one of the doors of the Ark and I would then take out the Torah.

I said, “if you need three guys to open the Ark, how many men does it take to do Hagbah (lifting the Torah after the reading)?”

In case it wasn’t already clear, in Israel we are used to brass-tacks prayers. No time for ceremony. Just like the Israeli people. We are an open and warm people, and we don’t stand on ceremony.

Share your experiences
What have you noticed different in your experiences in the Diaspora than what you are used to in Israel? Likewise, if you are from the Diaspora, what do you notice different when you visit the Holy Land?

Watch Israel TV on the Internet

The internet makes it easy for you to watch live tv from anywhere in the world.

There are several Israeli TV Channels who stream their stations live, or offer daily rebroadcasts of news and other shows. When you click on the link, your Windows Media Player will open and begin playing the selected channel.

1. Channel 10 This is a very popular Israeli channel that is available on cable. The internet broadcast is usually live during the mornings and evenings Israel time.
2. Channel 1 IBA News (English) Daily rebroadcast of the half hour long evening English news program.
3. Channel 1 Mabat News Daily rebroadcast of Israel’s most popular evening news (in Hebrew).
4. Knesset Live See what’s going on at Israel’s parliament. They also offer news programs and interviews on political issues.
5. Machon Meir – Religious Classes Online. Catch a live shiur!
6. Shopping Channel TV Shop till you drop (in Hebrew).

Sukkot in Jerusalem is Electric

The crowds, the energy, the excitement.  Those of us who are fortunate to live in Israel and live in or close enough to Jerusalem, know that this coming week of Sukkot is perhaps the best time of the year.

Narrow Alleyways in Jerusalem's Old City

Just like in ancient times when the Temples stood, throngs of Israelis visit Jerusalem from all over the country, along with Jewish tourists from the Diaspora.  The electricity in the air is truly amazing.

Sukkot is one of the three Festivals which include Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot that Jews are commanded to literally go up with their feet (“aliyat regel”) to Jerusalem.  It is a positive commandment described in the Torah that all of Israel should rise up to Jerusalem and be seen by His Temple.  Today, we are not commanded to go Jerusalem on these three festivals as the Temple no longer stands, however, it is customary, particularly for observant Jews, to visit Jerusalem at least once during the 7 day Festival (the 8th day, Simchat Torah/Shemini Hag Ha’atzeret, is actually a different holiday that G_d gave to the Jews as an extra show of His appreciation for the Chosen People.

In this photo, throngs of visitors to Jerusalem’s Old City push their way to the Western Wall on the day of the renewed ceremony  “Birkat Kohanim”, where thousands of Kohanim bless the nation as was done in ancient times.

Blessing the four species at the Western Wall
Blessing the four species at the Western Wall

A central part of the Festival of Sukkot is to take four species from the land, an Etrog, Hadas, Arava, and Lulav (Citron, Myrtle, Willow, and Palm Branch) and to make a blessing on them.  The reason is not given in the Torah, however it is a positive commandment for all of Israel.

Large Lulav and Etrog

A Very Large Lulav and Etrog

Jews are commanded on Sukkot to live 7 days in a Sukkah, which reminds us of the Children of Israel who lived forty years in sukkot (temporary dwellings) ‘booths’ in the desert on their journey from Exodus of Egypt into conquering the Land of Israel.

Today, many strictly observant Jews still abide by this commandment and dwell in their sukkot for all seven days.  Others prefer to sleep in their houses.

One of the truly amazing sites in Israel during the Sukkot holiday is to see so many sukkot attached to homes, apartments, businesses, schools, shopping malls, restaraunts, and every where else (even on the beach!).  We wish all Israel a happy and enjoyable Sukkot Holiday!

Sukkah Decorations

Sukkah Decorations

Caesarea (??????) and the Roman Aqueducts

When I think of Caesarea, and its 18 hole golf course near the beach, it usually comes with a longing for my golf clubs that I left in the USA 14 years ago.  It’s situated about 50KM north of Tel Aviv and is easily accessible from the main Coastal Highway.

Caesarea, is actually however, a top Israel tourist destination. The town is built on the ruins of a Herodian village from the times of the Roman era. The tourist section, which is much bigger than the inhabited portion, is filled with activities, Roman ruins, and the famous Roman Amphitheater.  Click here to learn more about the city’s impressive history.

The central tourist area has many artisan shops, including a “yekev” vineyard factory store.  The Israeli army brings cadets to Caeserea for training and for history lessons.  A soldier has to know what he’s fighting for.

Here are some photos of the beach, the Ampitheater,  Roman Ruins, and Aqueducts, which were quite an engineering feat.  (Remember the Monty Python skit about “what have the Romans done for us”?)…