Friday, July 29, 2011

Sea of Galilee & Beyond

The Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, also called the Kinneret, is one of Israel's four main water bodies along with the Mediterranean, the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. This landlocked sea is actually a freshwater lake which is 33 miles in circumference. Israelis have always had a sort of love affair with this romantic body of water nestled into the country's heart (in Israel's Galilee region) and bordering the seaside city of Tiberias. The Kinneret is much more than the country's largest supply of fresh drinking water, however; instead, it is also a first class tourism center with much to be seen and appreciated.


In terms of the surrounding scenery, there are a variety of different landscapes in each direction that you face. To the west you have the Galilee mountains, to the east you have the foothills of the Golan, to the north there is the scenic Beit Tsida Valley, and to the south is the Jordan estuary which flows southward toward the desert regions. Here's me appreciating the view of the Sea of Galilee from the mountains in the west:




These differing geographies make for all kinds of beaches that border the 33 mile circumference of the Sea of Galilee. Some of the Kinneret's beaches have soft sand, some are rocky, some are narrow and some are wide. No matter what type of beaches border the Sea of Galilee, you can bet that it will be a tourist draw. Most of the beaches allow nature-loving visitors to sleep in camping areas on the sand; and of course there are also dozens of hostels, guest houses, zimmers and beachfront hotels from which to choose.


Most of the beaches also offer various types of water sports and water activities, such as boating in inflatable rubber dinghies, canoes and kayaks. Children can also enjoy the giant slides at the water parks of Luna Gal, Tsemakh or Gai Beach. There are plenty of restaurant and grocery stores along the way so that food will not be a problem. Most of all, the Kinneret is the "it" place in Israel where one can enjoy restful calm and serene tranquility. 


Once you've had enough of the beach, the Kinneret actually makes a perfect starting point for nature tours in the area. Some of the more popular and beautiful sites are the Jordan Park, the Beit Tsida Nature Reserve, Khamat Gader and Naharayim. There is also the lower Golan Heights region which borders the Kinneret and is full of swift, flowing streams, historic sites and nature reserves. Of course, the nearby Golan Heights is also home to my favorite wineries in Israel. Combine a half day hike with an afternoon of leisurely wine tasting.



Lastly, one of the more famous tourist draws to the area is the city of Tiberias, which has become a jumping off point for the vast amount of holy sites in the region with ties to the early years of Christianity. Thus, the Sea of Galilee and its surrounding area has become a pilgrimage site for many Christians. According to Christian tradition, Jesus lived, preached and performed miracles in the Kinneret and the surrounding region. It was here that he walked on the water and the miracle of the loaves and fishes happened in the nearby town of Kfar Nakhum, also known as Capernaum. 


In fact, just a few months ago in April 2011, Israel unveiled the The Jesus Trail (see details here), a 40 mile hiking trail in the region for Christian pilgrims. It includes a network of footpaths, roads and bicycle paths linking sites central to the lives of Jesus and his disciples. It ends at Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus espoused his teachings. Another key attraction of the trail is the site where the Kinneret's water flows into the Jordan River, where thousands of pilgrims from all over the world come to be baptized every year.


Along the way, pilgrims and hikers will pass by a number of key holy sites including the Mount of Beatitudes, the Church of Loaves and Fishes, Kfar Nakhum, Kursi, and the wooden boat discovered in the lake and now on display in Kibbutz Ginosar. Other nearby historic sites includes Migal, Tel Hada, Ubeidiya, Beit Tsida, Kibbutz Dganya Alef, and Moshavat Kinnert.


Seems to me that there is quite a lot to see in the Sea of Galilee region. It's one of those places that you can go back to time and time again and continue to see new things, stay in new places and explore new trails, waiting to be unveiled.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Off The Wall Comedy

I can't tell you how many times I've met up with a friend for coffee here in Israel where we joke back and forth for hours, laughing hysterically, as we recount the inside jokes and shared trials and tribulations that we are experiencing currently or have experienced while living abroad in Israel. The common bond formed as expats living in a foreign country is a unique one and strong one that is arguably just as crucial to one's survival abroad as it is to the fulfillment of one's need for a good dosage of humor. 


We can go on and on about so much....every topic under the sun from the hovering religious folk behind you in line who adamantly pressure you to move forward (when it's not even yet your turn) or the endless and jaw-dropping run-around to get seemingly simple things like done, like setting up a doctor's appointment, paying for something at the post office or applying for any kind of license at all (good luck with all of the above...). Then of course there's your basic Hebrew issues (are these people fighting or just talking loudly at one another?! we're still trying to figure this one out...). And then there's the complete lack of anything that would make any sense at all,  such as, I don't know.... maybe, a place on the bill to add a tip, or perhaps bus schedules being posted to a bus stop,  or just a suggestion, government offices being open at hours beyond 8-12. And boy oh boy do we westerners miss good ole' customer service with a smile. I'm sorry you're having a bad day, Mr. Salesman or Ms. Coffee Brewer, but please don't take it out on me. And this is just the start of the list. Those of you living here will perhaps get a smile just by reading this paragraph.

However, I'm no professional when it comes to comedy. Though I like to think I have my own individual sense of humor, I'm no stand-up comic. It's nothing compared to the local comedian Mr. David Kilimnick who I have experienced as being quite the talk around town. An American-born comedian who moved to Israel by way of Aliyah has made his mark on the comedy scene in not only Jerusalem, but also, throughout all of Israel. 

Comedy was sort of nonexistent in previous years in the holy land; however, through the help of "Israel's Father of Anglo Comedy" this funnyman has established the reputed and wildly successful Off The Wall Comedy Basement headquartered right here in the heart of Jerusalem. This comedy shop showcases not only a repertoire of acclaimed, local comedians from right here in Jerusalem and throughout all of Israel but also, Off The Wall Comedy even features guest appearances from well-known comedians from abroad during their visits to Israel. People in Israel are really learning how to laugh and they enjoy showing up again and again at this popular comedy spot for a healthy dosage of humor.


In particular, the man I keep hearing about again and again is Mr. David Kilimnick himself, to whom the comedy spot owes its existence. Reportedly, David offers hilarious repertoires of his candid observations about life in Israel. Anybody who can relate to the frustrations of a turbulent life in Israel will find humor and sheer laughter in his clever monologues. To quote from Off The Wall Comedy's website (click here to see site): "Kilimnick's material covers the rocky transition from his 'New York Cocoon' to his new life as an 'Oleh Chadash' or Israeli newcomer.  Still single, Kilimnick touches on his religious upbringing, his father a rabbi, the injustices of Jewish grammar school and Jewish summer camp, and the looks he gets from his Jewish mother because he isn't married yet.  Meanwhile, Kilimnick's universal humor takes you on a tour of funny through the Holy Land."

Possibly Kilimnick's most successful bout is his thoroughly popular The Aliyah Monologues (1 & 2) which recounts the most frustrating aspects of a new immigrant's life in Israel. Everyone I know who has seen it says that it's a "must-see", leaving you wanting more. If you like what you hear in The Aliyah Monologues, fear not, for you can still come back for much, much more to whet your laughter palette. Kilimnick also has other popular routines including the following:
  • Tour of Funny through the Holy Land 
  • Find Me a Wife
  • Frum From Birth: Religious Manifesto
  • Uncle "D": How My Family Made Me
  • America: Where is it?
  • Jerusalem Comedy Show: What Your Tour Guide Didn't Tell You
  • Biblical Man: Let's Cross the River Already


To see a full schedule of upcoming shows at Off The Wall Comedy, please following this link here. The comedy basement is located smack dab in the center of town right next to the Mashbir shopping center at 34 Ben Yehuda Street. Entrance fees will cost you 50nis for a ticket and free drink on the house or 40nis for students, soldiers and seniors. I'm hoping us ulpan students will qualify because my Aliyah stipends aren't really doing the trick. For more details, and a good laugh, find more information at Off The Wall Comedy's website here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Breaking Records

Since arriving in Israel, I've taken an interest in Israeli tourism, mostly because I'm aware of the image that the media portrays of Israeli versus the reality of what it actually looks like and feels like to be here. Most people who come to Israel do indeed find the ancient sites and roaming deserts that they anticipated to find; however, they are often surprised by the modernity throughout the remainder of this small country.


That is why I'm happy to announce that this year, 2011, shows a trend for breaking records in the Israeli Tourism Industry. According to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the first half of 2011 (from January to June) has already broken a record with 1.6 million visitors having entered the country, more than any year before. Specifically, in the month of June alone, Israel welcomed 262,000 visitors which is a 1% increase from June 2010 and a whopping 25% increase from June 2009. Thus, the state of affairs is moving in the right direction. A large number of these visitors arrived in Israel either via cruise ship (showing that cruises are more likely to visit Israel this year than in previous years) and via plane directly into the resort town of Eilat (showing that this leisure town marks high up on the list for Israeli tourism). See the article here for further details.


Also recently, I located both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on the list of the World's Best Cities in Travel & Leisure magazine. Jerusalem was proud to take home the #2 spot and Tel Aviv the #3 spot for the World's Best Cities in the Middle East/Africa region. Cape Town snagged the #1 spot from Jerusalem by just 1/3 of a percent, which really shows the progress these Israeli cities have made in recent years. To see the rest of the list, please check out this article here. With regions aside, Jerusalem took home the #11 spot for Best City Worldwide and Tel Aviv came in at #29. For the full article, visit this site here.


Additionally, in a recent Gallup Poll, they did a worldwide survey to investigate the world's most thriving countries. In today's economy, as we know, it's not easy to come by a thriving economy. Nonetheless, Israel actually managed to place quite high up on this worldwide list, snagging spot # 7, in cahoots with the likes of Denmark, Canada, Sweden, Venezuela, Finland and Australia. Not too bad if you ask me. To see this article, please click here.

Lastly, I just came across an interesting article recently that talked about Israel's bustling high tech scene. It might surprise you to learn that Israel, "despite being the 100th smallest country in the world, which can fit into Europe 459 times, has the highest number of companies listed on the NASDAQ after America." Israel also has the highest number of high tech companies (hovering around 3,500 companies) ranging from internet companies to software solutions. This is the highest per capita home to high tech companies, making Israel the second "Silicon Valley" of the world, if you will. Google, Microsoft and Intel have all chosen to have their research and development headquarters centered here in Israel. For being a young country of only 63 years, the high tech here has definitely made its mark with a worldwide impact. See the full article online here.


There are other categories that Israel has also ranked highly in, but a little blog post will not be able to tell it all. Israel (and Tel Aviv specifically) is often ranked in the top 10, if not top 5, for most "gay friendly" cities of the world.  Additionally, I've read articles about Israel, of all countries, being ranked highly for in-vitro fertilization procedures on a worldwide scale. Israel, at just 63 years old, has also been home to the prideful inventions and discoveries of several of the world's cherished items, including the USB flash drive, electronic dictionaries, laser keyboards, Babylon online translator, cherry tomatoes, drip irrigation system, solar water heating, energy towers, the epilator, instant messaging software, and a range of tanks and anti-ballistic missiles. The list goes on. Quite an achievement for a young country!


As you can see, 2011 has been a great year for Israeli tourism and overall, Israel is on its way to achieving great things in record time. I look forward to seeing what else the future has in store for this young and eager country.