Israel: A Remarkable Paradise Carved Out of the Desert

PART ONE:  Getting There

Usually when I’m invited on a press trip, my family and friends are very excited for me. When my trip to Israel materialized, I eagerly shared with everyone what for me what was great news.  Their smiles suddenly faded and were replaced with looks of deep concern. “Be careful.” “Be careful.” “Be careful.” I heard that over and over again, with one email from a friend reading: Don’t leave the group. Don’t eat in any outdoor cafes. Don’t use the buses. Don’t use any underground parking… Have a good time! Don’t. Don’t.  Don’t. That was the “bon voyage” sentiment that came at me from just about everyone.  

El Al Airlines has stringent security measures, making it the safest airlines in the world. Courtesy Photo

While I’m fully aware of the recent hostilities taking place in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, not for a split second did I have a single worry. After all, I was headed to a country that probably has the best security in the world.  No El Al plane has ever been hijacked or shot down, which is due in large part to the routine security measures at airports and the state-of-the-art defense systems in place in that tiny country, no bigger than the state of New Jersey. In addition, many of El Al’s aircraft are equipped with anti-missile technology. 

After my United Airlines flight out of LAX arrived at JFK in New York, I headed over to the El Al ticket counter to pick up a boarding pass for the next leg of my journey. A friendly Israeli gentleman greeted me and escorted me to the check-in line, at which point a young woman interviewed me. 

“Why are you going to Israel?” she asked.

“I’m going on a press trip,” I replied.

“What is the purpose?” 

“The purpose is to write a feature on my experiences.” 

 “Where exactly will you be going at which hotels will you being staying?”  

At this point, I took out my itinerary as prepared by the Israel Ministry of Tourism, which outlined the destinations we would be visiting.   She read it carefully and then asked me some more standard questions:

 “Did anyone give you a parcel to take with you to Israel?”

 “No.” 

 “Did you ever leave your luggage unattended?” 

 “No.” 

I had already received a note from Israel Tourism asking me to be patient and not take offense at any questions that might be considered invasive, so I was fully prepared to even account for my bra size, should I be asked that.   After about ten minutes of questioning, I was then escorted to the ticket counter where I was issued a boarding pass and a special invitation to wait in the El Al Lounge for my connecting flight, which would depart in about five hours. Not to worry though, like most Jewish “homes,” the food area was overflowing with wonderful treats and before I knew it, the five hours had flown by and the boarding of my flight to Israel commenced. 

I queued up to get on the plane, and when I handed my boarding pass to yet another security officer, he very politely said, “Wait here.” I have to admit that was the only moment of concern, as I couldn’t imagine why I was being detained. He addressed another gentleman behind the counter who picked up the phone and spoke in Hebrew.  As I do not speak Hebrew, the only thing I understood was “Beverly Cohn.”  The security guy came back in short order and beckoned for me to proceed to the plane.  I asked if there was a problem and he smiled and said, “Not to worry.”  Once on board, I was looking forward to the 10-½ hour flight to the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, and I’m pleased to tell you that delicious free food just kept on coming throughout the duration of the flight.

Unlike some other performers, Lady Gaga refused to cancel her appearance in Tel Aviv. Courtesy Photo

I share this reassuring experience with you because following the latest conflict, many people cancelled their booked tours or business conventions, as did many well-known entertainers.  Some of the notable talent that backed out included Neil Young, America, Backstreet Boys, and Kansas.  One entertainer who did not cancel was the amazing Lady Gaga, and I’ll talk more about her incredible performance in Part Two.  Knee-jerk reactions to visiting Israel are largely based on uninformed misperceptions about its people, politics, and the realities of normal day-to-day life in that country.”

Most people think Israelis live in constant fear of the next rocket attack. Also, they have gotten much bad press with many stories beginning with incendiary and provocative headlines like, “Israel Kills Civilians” or “Israel Murders Children.”  What is glaringly omitted is how many rockets were fired into Israel and that they were acting in their own defense.  Despite the occasional hostilities, life goes on as usual.  People wake up in the morning, have their breakfast, which generally includes fresh vegetables, eggs, and cheeses with coffee or tea, and then go off to work or school.  Life is active and the streets are alive day and night with people enjoying themselves at lovely cafes.  They attend the ballet, opera, movies, as well as classical or rock concerts.  

Stringent security measures at the Ben Gurion Airport gives you assurances that your safety is their Number 1 concern. Courtesy Photo

Whether you are a Christian, a Jew, or a Muslim, or whatever your religious background you might be, Israel is a magical place filled ancient religious and cultural wonders and is a fascinating, fun destination for a family vacation.  You can be assured that one of Israel’s primary concerns is the safety and security of its visitors.  To paraphrase Israel’s old tourism slogan, “Go To Israel.  Stay with friends.” 

This sign greets you on arrival at the Ben Gurion Airport setting the tone for the memorable vacation you are about to experience. Photo: Beverly Cohn

Part Two is a detailed account of my exciting adventures in Israel, which included visits to the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall, King David’s Tomb, the Room of the Last Supper, the Muslim Quarter, including the Arab market, Capernaum, the ancient Jewish fishing village where Jesus began his ministry, Masada, Yad Vasahem – the National Memorial and Museum of the Holocaust, floating in the Dead Sea, and so much more.   

  

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