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Encountering Israel
Geography, History, Culture

by Stephen J. Kramer ©2010, Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-935232-23-0, 234 pp
 

When you read Steve Kramer’s vignettes about sites and sights in Israel, you’ll feel like you’ve been there yourself. Divided into three sections—Central, North and South, Encountering Israel will give you an almost first hand experience of Israeli life and its attractions. You’ll never feel closer to Israel unless you land at Ben Gurion Airport!

 

This book is intended for: armchair travelers (even if they live in Israel); travelers who have been to Israel; and those who intend to travel to Israel. My goal is to give readers a personal feeling for contemporary Israel, while not neglecting its tumultuous past.


This book covers many of Israel’s wonderful sites and locales, including some unusual, less touristic ones. After reading each vignette, you’ll have a feeling for the geography, history and culture of the place, as if you’ve been there with me. Even better, you may decide to put down this book and tour Israel yourself!


An avid reader of mine, my mother, has commented that in nearly twenty years of touring Israel, I have yet to run out of interesting subjects. That’s part of Israel excitement. There’s an unbelievable number of attractions in a nation the size of the American state of New Jersey.


These articles have appeared in the Jewish Times of South Jersey, for which I have been the Israel correspondent since its inception.

ENCOUNTERING ISRAEL: THE CENTER

Highlights in Red: Je zreel and Elah Valleys ............................... 9

Tel Aviv's Challenge to Zionism ................................................. 14

The Yemenite Quarter of Tel Aviv .............................................. 18

Full Moon Rising: Alexander River .......................................... 21

The Sanctity of Jerusalem ........................................................... 24

Jerusalem Weekend ..................................................................... 29

Not Just Forests:  the Jewish National Fund .............................. 33

Hiking the Judean Mountains ..................................................... 37

The Jewish People Lives: Yad Vashem ..................................... 41

Jerusalem: City of Gold ............................................................ 46

Bialik Street, Tel Aviv ................................................................. 50

Exploring Ancient Jerusalem ...................................................... 55

Passover Adventures ................................................................... 60

All in a Day: -Jerusalem ............................................................. 66

Jerusalem Nights ......................................................................... 70

Winter Hike Near Beit Shemesh ................................................. 73

Exploring Contemporary Jerusalem ............................................ 77

Please Touch Theater at Jaffa Port .............................................. 81

The Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem ................................................ 85

Jerusalem Film Festival ............................................................... 90

 

ENCOUNTERING ISRAEL: THE NORTH

Holiday on the Golan .................................................................. 94

Journey to Akko .......................................................................... 97

Carmel National Park ................................................................ 101

To the Hula Valley .................................................................... 105

The Essence of Israel: the Golan Heights ............................... 110

Return to the North Nahariya ................................................. 113

Galilee Weekend: Safed ........................................................... 117

Towers and Columns: Bet She'an ........................................... 123

God's Country .th e Galilee ...................................................... 127

Gamla . Masada of the North ................................................... 130

A Day in Haifa .......................................................................... 134

Caesarea: The Long View ....................................................... 138

Modem Caesarea ....................................................................... 143

In Mt. Tavor 's Shadow .............................................................. 148

Hiking the Lower Galilee .......................................................... 152

Guided Tour at Megiddo ........................................................... 156

The First Decade the Kibbutz ................................................ 160

Hiking the Seam in Galilee ....................................................... 164

 

ENCOUNTERING ISRAEL: THE SOUTH

Getting Away From It All: .the Dead Sea and the Old City ..... 168

Vacationing in Mitzpe Ramon ................................................... 171

Heading South to Eilat .............................................................. 175

Bittersweet Days, the Dead Sea and En Gedi ........................... 178

Ben-Gurion's Dream the Negev ............................................. 182

A Dead Sea Hike and Gush Etzion ........................................... 186

King Herod's Summer Palace and More ................................... 190

The Zealots' Trail . Masada ...................................................... 195

Hiking Mt. Vishay and En Gedi ................................................ 199

Perfect Weekend: Th e Negev and Sde Boker ......................... 202

Ancient History at Qumran ....................................................... 207

South to the Arava and Timna Valley ....................................... 213

The Arava Valley's Pioneering Agriculture ............................... 217

Tel Tzavit and the Philistines .................................................... 221

Wadi Darga and Ein Tamar ....................................................... 226

Shivta and Kadesh Barnea ........................................................ 229

JERUSALEM WEEKEND

We started our weekend on Thursday night in front of the Kotel (Western Wall). Our older son Moshe was present with all the members of his induction group for the “swearing in” ceremony of the Paratroopers. It was grand seeing all the young men lined up in their units, all spit and polish, while the senior officers spoke about the importance of the role of the Paratroopers. Then, a Tanach (Hebrew Bible) was slipped under each soldier’s shirt, near the heart, to symbolize love of Israel and Judaism. (The proportion of Paratroopers who are Orthodox is impressive). The climax of the ceremony was when all the inductees shouted out “I swear”, in response to the declaration that they would honor their country and protect it by their military prowess. But more significant to me was the aftermath of the swearing in, seeing all the young men greeting their families and friends with such obvious feeling, and congratulating each other with such obvious warmth. It is clear that basic training imbues love of country and comradeship with their fellow soldiers in the young men. Michal and I couldn't ignore the fact that soon their lives may depend on the men with whom they are training.

After driving home late, we returned early the next morning to meet our hiking group at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem. Yossi, our guide on a recent tour in the Galilee, led us again. We had returned to the Kotel, but now we were embarking on the Jerusalem Tunnel tour, which Michal and I have tried to schedule without success a few times previously. This time we made it! The tour takes you under the existing street level of the plaza, parallel to the Western Wall, in areas dating back to the Hasmonean period (167-63 BCE). All of us were overwhelmed to be in the environs of the 29 First Temple. At one point we reached the spot closest to the original site of the Holy of Holies, which was at the center of both the First and Second Temples. Eventually we found ourselves in close quarters, a very narrow tunnel, which at one time was a watercourse for ancient Jerusalem. At the end of the tunnel Yossi had us retrace our steps backwards to the entrance, instead of exiting into the Arab Quarter, which was the scene of a violent riot when the Jerusalem Tunnel exit there was first opened to tourists.

We spent time walking through the Jewish Quarter, including a rooftop vista that gave us a different perspective of the Old City.

We looked over a large portion of the Old City and beyond towards Mount Scopus. Following lunch, we left that section of the city and drove to the campus of the Mormon Jerusalem Center, next to the Hebrew University, where Christian students from abroad (mostly Mormon) can spend a semester. The buildings are magnificent, as are the gardens. Michal and I had not been here before, either. We were enchanted by the architecture and the incredible view towards the Old City. There were few students on campus at the time, however, because of a US government’s travel advisory.

Completing our tour around the city, we drove to the Sherover and Hess Promenades in Talpiot, beautiful walkways with gardens, where our view was across town to the Old City and beyond it to the Mormon Center. Although Jerusalem is writ large in the imagination of the world for its religious importance and its beauty, its actual physical size is small enough to allow a trip like ours, which displayed its main points from a circular perspective in less than a day.

30 Tired, with eyes smarting from the glare of the sun on the omnipresent, pink Jerusalem stone, we retreated for the evening to Ein Karem, a lovely wooded village tucked away on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Today Ein Karem is a trendy suburban enclave with homes adjacent to many Christian churches and monasteries, which date back centuries. We stayed at the Notre Dame de Sion monastery, where we enjoyed a great dinner and clean rooms, plus an ample breakfast. After enjoying the monastery gardens, we drove downtown to the beginning of Jaffa Road, which we walked nearly to its end.

Among the highlights of the Jaffa Road tour were the stories Yossi told us about buildings along the street. We saw the grave of Dr.

Moshe Wallach, the founder of Shaare Zedek, Jerusalem’s first Jewish hospital. He forced patients to stand at prayer times, regardless of their ailments. Wallach was also responsible for the death of a young patient whom he would not allow to be admitted until after the end of Shabbat. Despite his failings, he is still revered by many for his many accomplishments. We passed through the outdoor Mahaneh Yehuda Market, deserted on Shabbat, which is thronged by shoppers during the week. We saw one of the oldest yeshivas (institutions for Torah study) in the city, where we learned about the drastic disciplinary measures that the students were subjected to. We passed the “dead groom’s house”, a magnificent mansion which the groom’s parents built for him and his intended. The groom died the day before his wedding, but the marriage was performed anyway — with the groom dressed in his wedding suit — at the insistence of the parents.

This is not your usual tourist guide but an unusually interesting one that takes the armchair traveler on an historical, archaeological, biblical and cultural tour of Israel in a very individual way. While Kramer hikes through the country covering a lot of territory and thousands of years, he tells us fascinating vignettes about all the threads that were woven together to create the unique tapestry that is Israel.

 

The Zionist motivation and spirit is pervasive throughout the book, totally integrated with all the information that captures the essence of the country. Kramer, who hails from the USA, is the Israel correspondent for the Jewish Times of New Jersey, made aliyah with his wife and children in 1991.

 

Reading “Encountering Israel,” is akin to flying through the country on a magic country, pausing along the way to admire, appreciate and marvel as we discover yet again its biblical roots and history while finding its contemporary heartbeat.

 

From the majesty of the Golan Heights, home to Israel’s famous vineyards, from where we can almost see our Syrian neighbors to the Hula Valley where the pioneers drained the swamps, Kramer takes us through the amazing landscapes as we wend our way to Jerusalem and its myriad treasures, the spiritual heart of the Jewish people.

 

The sites and sights of Jerusalem boggle the mind no matter how many times we may visit the City. Although we are always aware of its deeply religious significance there is always more to see and learn. Along the ancient narrow, cobblestone alleyways, Kramer explores the Western Wall, the City of David, and the Jewish Quarter, through to contemporary Jerusalem. We follow along as he takes us through the markets, the Museums, and introduces the now famous annual Jerusalem Film Festival and the theatrical, jazz and classical music performances.

 

Heading south of Jerusalem is the lowest point on earth, Dead Sea, where the author stirs our imagination with some interesting Biblical highlights and onto Eilat, Israel’s year-round resort on the Red Sea, to enjoy some time out for rest and relaxation before taking on Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean Sea.

 

Tel Aviv, Israel’s business and cultural center , has a beautiful green space, a park that stretches over a very large area. Hiking through the Hayarkon Park , Kramer manages to cover several centuries. While children scamper about the grass and families picnic nearby, he explores Antipatris and its remnants of an Ottoman Fortress built in 1571, continues on to the remains of an Egyptian Governor’s palace, circa 1200-1500 BC, and takes in the ruins of the ancient Roman Cardo (street) built by Herod the Great.

 

Throughout this book, the author always strives to convey the pulse of this intriguing country in all its aspects. Whether you travel here in your armchair, in your imagination or in person, Encountering Israel, would make an ideal companion.

ESRA Magazine, Sept. 2010



“We need to step back on occasion from the intense daily detail of Israel’s political and media struggles to draw a deep breath and reinvigorate ourselves with refreshing stuff like the vivid historical-geographical-natural world-meeting Israelis accounts of Steve and Michal Kramer’s hikes and visits all over Israel.  Steve’s book has done this for me and will, I think, for all Israel’s friends.”

Jerry Verlin,  ZOA, Philadelphia. PA


 

“Journalists with a loyal readership are frequently urged to write books about people they’ve met and the places they’ve been. Steve Kramer, the Alfei Menashe-based Israel correspondent for the Jewish Times of South Jersey, has taken up the challenge not once, but twice. His first book, Meandering through Israel, took readers to places both familiar and off the beaten track. Now, he’s come up with a more in-depth sequel, Encountering Israel - Geography, History, Culture. Kramer says his new volume is intended for armchair travelers including those who live here, but don’t necessarily stray far from home. It’s also for travelers who have been here and those who intend to visit.

Greer Fay Cashman, Jerusalem Post

 

 

"Encountering Israel" constitutes a pocket-guide for tourists, who wish to acquaint themselves with the soul, spirit, geography, topography and history of the Jewish State. It is also a roadmap for Israelis, who wish to enhance education about their own country."

Ambassador Yoram Ettinger



"Encountering Israel" is charming and informative ... but not scholarly ..."

Daniel Pipes, Middle East Forum



“I enjoyed reading your book so much I think its made a convert out of me.  Your keen observation on environmental and cultural topics was beautifully set in biblical and historic context.  I really appreciated that.  Also, you are now my #1 hotel and eating guide.

Maxine S.


Steve grew up in the Atlantic City, NJ area and graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1967. After several years of traveling and working across America, he worked for two decades at his family’s beverage distribution company in southern New Jersey. With his wife Michal and their two young sons, the family made aliyah to Israel in 1991, where they live in Alfe Menashe. Steve is the Israel correspondent for the Jewish Times of South Jersey. This is his second book about Israel.

Encountering Israel

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