The Simpsons are Going to Israel

Thursday, 26 March 2009

What do Ben Stiller, Barack Obama, Helen Mirren, Homer Simpson and the Pope all have in common?

They have all recently visited, or are soon going to visit, Israel.

The Simpsons will be heading to Israel next year after having already visited Australia, Britain, France and Japan. The show's producer said "The premise will be that the Christians, the Jews and Muslims are united in that they all get mad at Homer. It's the only thing they can agree on."

Be Cool in Israel

Lonely Planet Covers Israel

Monday, 23 March 2009

Lonely Planet have just finished filming a documentary about Israel and the Palestinian Territories as part of its upcoming series: "Roads Less Traveled" which will have 13 one hour documentaries about forgotten travel destinations.

The series is focused on experiences rather than as a source of information, and we think its fantastic that they have chosen to include Israel in this guide.

With Tel Aviv celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and last year, Israel not only celebrating its 60th, but also seeing record tourist numbers in a year where most of the world saw a decline in visitors, the more coverage Israel gets the better. The Pope's upcoming visit, as well as the inclusion of the country in a number of upcoming blockbuster films can only help to show the 'real Israel' which is unknown to much of the world.

The series isnt expected to be showed until later in the year, but as soon as we know more details, we'll let you know...

be cool in israel

If its good enough for the Pope...and other news

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Its just been announced that El Al have been selected to fly the Pope back to Rome after his upcoming visit to Israel in May.

Over the last week, Israel has also had some other high-profile visitors. Helen Mirren, the Oscar winning actress was in the country shooting her new film "The Debt" and apparently she loves it here so much, she's said she might buy a holiday home in Israel!

And Freida Pinto, the actress from Slumdog Millionaire has also just landed in Tel Aviv to get into character ahead of her next role in the film "Miral".

The Times Picks Up on Tel Aviv

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

London's Times newspaper has picked up on Tel Aviv's 100th birthday with a nice tribute to the Mediterranean's capital of cool:

Barely 7am and the sun is already beating down as my feet pound the wet sand. Huge breakers, the remnant of a winter storm, are crashing to my right.

Tel Aviv's glitzy hotels and tower blocks line the promenade to my left. Through the mist kicked up by the waves, I can see the hazy outline of ancient Jaffa to the south, a fortified tangle of narrow streets dating back 5,000 years. The beach is already busy with dog walkers, runners, surfers and early-morning yogis.

Almost exactly 100 years ago, there was nothing here except the vast sweep of sand and a few fruit orchards. But Jaffa was at bursting point and houses were already going up outside the walls.

As the story goes, a group of 66 families from Jaffa, dreaming of a new, spacious utopia in which to live, stood in the sand dunes and drew lines in the sand to define the boundaries of what would become Tel Aviv. To divide up the plots, they had an impromptu raffle, using sea shells.

It's hard to picture today. Tel Aviv in 2009 is a heaving metropolis of 390,000, busily spreading its tentacles east and north to create a metropolitan area of three million.

The centre is a cluster of colourful neighbourhoods, impressive Bauhaus architecture (protected as a Unesco World Heritage Site), hip bars and some of the finest fish restaurants in the Mediterranean. The seafront has to be one of the world’s most stunning urban beaches – long, wide, sandy and spotlessly clean.

Just 44 miles to the south, a fragile cease-fire is holding in Gaza. Here in the city, tourism officials are hoping that the political situation won't affect their birthday extravaganza, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Centennial Year, a century since that seashell raffle.

A summer of celebration kicks off in April with concerts, exhibitions, sporting events and parades. On April 3, the whole city will become one massive street party with open air food stalls, dance performances and street artists. On April 17, descendants of the original 66 families will gather in Sir Charles Clore Park to recreate the original photograph of the Zionist pioneers, grouped hopefully on the empty sand.

There’s an international marathon on April 24 and in June, the RS:X European Open Windsurfing Championship takes place on Gordon Beach, a world-class festival which is expected to attract several Olympic medallists.

Tel Aviv will stay awake all night on May 27 (not that it sleeps much anyway) with the annual White Night celebration. Rothschild Boulevard, one of the main thoroughfares and location of many of the most beautiful Bauhaus buildings, will become a stage for re-enactments of city scenes from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, with professional actors and lavish staging.

Carmel Market, the city’s biggest fruit and veg market, will stay open all night, as will Nahalat Binyamin, a chichi craft fair in a neighbouring street. Restaurants, clubs and bars will all be open till dawn.

In June, the Blue Festival, a celebration of food, art, culture and music, will take over the alleyways of old Jaffa and also relaunch Jaffa Port, currently being spruced up to house new boutiques, galleries and restaurants.

The September holiday of Rosh Hashana will see Rabin Square carpeted with flowers, a joint event with the city of Brussels. A good time to plan a short break is July 16, when Milan’s La Scala will perform Verdi’s Requiem in Yarkon Park – for free.

Failing this, the magnificent Tel Aviv beach will be recreated in Paris, Copenhagen, Vienna and New York’s Central Park this summer, with beach games, DJs, parties, Israeli food and musicians, free and open to all.

One might question what Israel has got to celebrate at the moment. But although the political debate never stops, life goes on in Tel Aviv, as it always has against 100 years of troubled, turbulent history. While Jerusalem, less than an hour down the road, is sombre and devout, Tel Aviv is a party city for the young.

Security is ever-present but nobody stays behind closed doors in fear; not even politicians. I arrange to meet a friend at the Cafe Tamar on hip Sheinkin Street, on a busy Saturday morning. The cafe is a boho, lefty hangout straight out of the 1950s, all formica and faded political posters.

I arrive to find it packed with film crews. A beefy security guard accosts me and asks for ID, as I am carrying a camera and a notebook. He turns out to be the personal bodyguard of a Rafi Eitan, a senior government minister who has chosen this very public place for a meeting.

As the elderly politician emerges from the cafe, my friend tells me that Eitan, a former spy, was in charge of the Mossad operation that captured Eichmann, orchestrator of the Holocaust, in Argentina in 1960. I am awestruck.

But Tel Aviv is full of surprises. It’s so accessible. I wander the alleys of Old Jaffa, poking my nose into galleries. In every one, the artist is there, happy to chat. I meet Frank Meisler, who creates intricate metal sculptures and whose ‘Jerusalem Sphere’ pieces are owned by royals and heads of state worldwide.

I talk to to Ilana Goor, an amazing artist and sculptor who lives in her own museum, creating flocks of bronze birds, jewellery and metal furniture. I call in on Adina Plastelina, the atelier of Adi and Sami, who make exquisite jewellery out of rainbow-coloured plastics and keep unearthing pieces of 3,500 year old pottery as they carefully renovate their studio, a former Turkish bath.

In the city’s new Hashmal Garden area, a cluster of unassuming streets around a scruffy little park, young designers have taken advantage of cheap rents and moved in. You can meet them and buy straight from their studio-shops; handbags from Kisim , featured in the movie Sex And The City, pretty gold and silver rings from Mira Mory and stylish leather and gold accessories from Hagar Satat.

Like the city itself, their optimism, energy and joie de vivre are invigorating.

The forgotten: Jezreel Valley

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The Jezreel Valley has some breathtaking landscapes, and interesting places to visit. In this article in the Jerusalem Post, some of these are brought into the spotlight:

For most people, the Jezreel Valley is an area they pass through on their way from the center of the country to the North. But even after living four decades on a kibbutz that hugs the lower slopes of the Menashe Hills on the rim of the Jezreel Valley, this writer is still discovering and rediscovering people and places - relishing in the opportunity, when friends and family visit from abroad, to share and show off some of those Jezreel Valley gems.

THE ANCIENT mound Megiddo is a good place to start – even though there are some who believe this is the site where everything will end!

The ancient mound (tel) of Megiddo is a good place to start - even though there are some who believe this is the site where everything will end! An unbelievable 30 layers of civilization have been discovered and painstakingly uncovered since the first archaeological expedition was carried out in 1903. Every two years, more discoveries are made as hundreds of people from Israel and abroad pick through the dirt in the hope of discovering yet more secrets of Har Megiddo ("Armageddon"), which is mentioned in both the Bible and the New Testament.

Fortifications, underground shafts and water tunnels, King Solomon's chariot stables and much more await visitors to the site that served as a base for James Michener's blockbuster novel The Source. Visitors to Tel Megiddo can get into the spirit with an audiovisual presentation before they take a walk back in time. The highest promontory at Megiddo, with its few palm trees that are visible for miles, offers a view of the valley that is quite breathtaking on a clear day. The view includes Nazareth, perched on the hills opposite; Mount Tabor - pudding-shaped with the Franciscans' Basilica of the Transfiguration church and monastery protruding from its peak; the Gilboa mountain range and Jenin tucked in the corner. A short distance from Megiddo, Israel's West Bank security fence follows the Green Line across the Jezreel Plains floor.

In the center of the valley sits the Ramat David Air Force base. The base might not be visible, but the planes are definitely heard as engines rev up before takeoff or aircraft circle the valley prior to landing. Close by, the small Megiddo Airport serves glider and light aircraft traffic. Recently, the little airport has been the scene of demonstrations by valley residents who strongly oppose plans to develop a commercial airport there.

Leaving Megiddo and heading towards the town of Yokneam, the Carmel mountain range looms ahead. Beit Shearim, burial place of former Sanhedrin head Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi, who codified the Mishna, is our next port of call.

A network of underground catacombs house scores of decorated sarcophagi, now empty. Even so, it is a somewhat eerie but also electrifying experience to walk around the dimly-lit burial chambers and caves and study the intricate decorations on the sarcophagi. Some bear Hebrew inscriptions; others writing in Greek or Aramaic. Animal themes seem to have been the most popular order of the day. A menora carved out of the soft limestone is particularly spectacular.

Beit Shearim also contains the ruins of a number of structures thought to be dwellings from the 2nd to 4th centuries BCE, after which the site was destroyed by the Romans. The remains of a synagogue stand at the side of the approach road leading down to the Beit Shearim National Park. Standing proudly on a hill, guarding both the ancient site and Jezreel Valley at his feet, is a large statue of Alexander Zaid, founder of HaShomer - armed guards on horseback who protected the valley's Jewish farmers against Arab marauders in the 1930s.

Zaid is credited with discovering the remains of Beit Shearim when he built his home on the hill. His dwelling is also very close to the double-domed tomb of Sheikh Bruk. Last year, metal thieves attempted to steal the Zaid statue, but they found it too heavy to cart off.

For visitors with a taste for more, how about adding the picturesque side-by-side former Templar villages of Alonei Aba and Beit Lehem Haglilit to the day's visit?

The manicured gardens and open public spaces around the German sect's impressive community center invite a slow stroll and many a photo op, particularly for the overseas visitors. The home of Kobi and Nurit Fleishman has been turned into an in-house museum. Templar expert and tour guide Kobi Fleishman tells riveting stories about the Templar house that Nurit's parents lived in after making aliya in the early 1950s. In those days, four families shared the two-story home, after its previous Nazi-sympathizing occupants were banished back to Germany or Australia by the British. The villages consist of attractive stone houses with arched windows, wooden shutters and intricate iron work railings around the second-floor balconies - true jewels in the Jezreel Valley's crown.

Happy Birthday Tel Aviv

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Great video about the history and development of Tel Aviv.

High Chance El Al Will Fly to Australia

El Al have said that whilst it is not in their short term plans to fly to Australia, it is "a disconnect from reality that one day El Al will be in Australia."

As Peter Kohn wrote in the Australian Jewish News

EL AL, Israel's national airline, will beef up its Asian service from the end of March, but according to El Al's regional manager for Asia and Oceania, Yair Berrebi, there are no short-term plans to fly direct and return routes to Australia.

Berrebi, who was in Australia for a brief visit to meet El Al representatives and travel industry executives, said El Al sees the local Jewish community as its "core business" in Australia.

Long-term hopes for direct flights from Sydney or Melbourne into Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv remain high, after El Al recently announced direct flights to Israel from Sao Paolo, Brazil, which has a sizeable Jewish community.

However, Berrebi said the Brazil connection was planned before the current economic downturn, and the airline would wait to see how the global picture developed before planning any new direct routes.

"I don't think it's a disconnect from reality that one day El Al will be in Australia," Berrebi told The AJN, citing the size and level of support for the airline nationally.

Meanwhile, Australian travellers can take advantage of a comprehensive network of connecting flights to Hong Kong, Beijing, Bangkok and Mumbai, with outbound carriers including Qantas (which has a frequent-flyer partnership with El Al), Cathay Pacific and Thai Airlines, he said.

A fifth weekly El Al flight from Hong Kong will commence from the end of this month.

Berrebi said a code-share agreement with a major airline is being negotiated, with El Al set to make an announcement soon.

When the Gaza conflict flared up in December, El Al's Asian division was hit with more than 2000 cancellations in 72 hours from some 16 countries.

Although the Gaza crisis has now subsided, the impression in Asian markets is that "tourists, pilgrims, and some from the Jewish community feel too uncomfortable to come to Israel".

In 2008, El Al recorded a rise of 60 per cent in Australian passenger volumes over the previous year's figure.

"I see it as a salute to Israel to have this kind of support from this community."

El Al's general manager for Australia Romy Leibler said support from Jewish organisations was a vital element of the relationship.

"We don't have a moral exclusivity, but we make sure we do our best to be seen as the airline of the community and the airline of Israel."

Business and trade travel between Australia and Israel is becoming a growing part of the passenger mix, he said.

Ben Gurion Airport Best in Middle East

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

For the second year running, Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv has been named the best in the Middle East in the Airports Council International annual airport survey. The airport also came second in the world for airports with passenger traffic between 5 and 15 million. Quite an achievement!

The survey is based on passengers’ perception of the quality of 30 aspects of the service that they have experienced at an airport over the year.

The Pope's Coming...and so are Tourists

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Israeli paper Haaretz today said that the upcoming visit of the Pope will bring $60 million in revenues to the tourism industry, which, like tourism industries around the world, is feeling the bite of the economic crisis.

When the last Pope, Pope John Paul II visited in March 2000 a huge increase in tourism to Israel followed.

Some 40,000 pilgrims and tourists are expected during the week of the Pope's visit which is between May 8 to 15. Hotels in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Tiberias, Tel Aviv and at the Dead Sea are expected to be full for most of the visit. The main mass to be celebrated by the Pope will be held in Nazareth, the Vatican announced recently, though Haifa had been hoping to win the honor.

Dont Let Security Put You Off

Saturday, 7 March 2009

I've heard loads of reasons why people dont want to go to Israel (most of them are total rubbish) but there is one which I heard for the first time this week which made me jump - they were scared of being interrogated at the airport.

Most people view the efforts Israel puts in to securing its airports and airlines as great. It takes another weight off their mind as they travel. Ben Gurion Airport is widely regarded to be the most secure airport in the world, whilst El Al is the most secure airline. And, in terms of safety, El Al has just come fourth in the world.

For sure, some people have a bad experience when entering Israel. And yes an Israeli Jew travelling with kids is less likely to be stopped than a Western student travelling alone who has never been to Israel before, knows nobody there, and is badly dressed. But if you have nothing to hide, then nothing will happen. The aim of security is to make you safe - the security staff are there for you, and if you have nothing to hide, there will be no problem.

Of course there are horror stories out there of interrogations, but bear in mind how few and far between these are compared to how many people travel through the airports into Israel each year, and you'll realise that they are really exceptional.

So dont find excuses (and how anybody can contemplate letting high security put them off travelling somewhere is beyond me!) and get on that plane (finding the best deals on tickets through our sister site so you can come and be cool in Israel.

James Bond Visits Eilat

James Bond actor Roger Moore has just been in Eilat as part of the Eilat Chamber Music Festival. He also visited the Dead Sea

He came with his wife, and during their free visited Eilat's Underwater Observatory Marine Park, where they were able to enjoy close encounters with the Coral Reef's rich marine life as well as meeting dolphins at the Dolphin Reef.

A Unique way of getting Bikers into the Negev

Sunday, 1 March 2009

100 free bikes are available in Tel Aviv for those who solve a riddle about the Negev.

YNet write:

Starting Friday, in honor of Tel Aviv's upcoming centennial, 100 yellow bicycles will be scattered across the White City, free for the taking… to anyone who is able to solve a riddle related to the bike.

The unique initiative was developed by the Committee for the Development of the Negev and Galilee as part of a project to attract bike-riders to trails in the south, with hope that the game will serve as an advertisement and a draw to the region.

Snagging a free yellow bicycle, project coordinators say, is a matter of a few simple steps. First, spot a bike. Next, find a sticker on the bike bearing the name of one of the many bike trails in the Negev, including the trail serial number.

At the website, interested bikers can read about their bike trail, answer a question about it and type in the serial number of the trail in question. A correct answer will supply the code to the bike lock.

"Today, the Negev has an entire system built to accommodate riders," Michal Ozihu, director of tourism for the region, said Wednesday. "The Negev is a great spot for bike-riders of many different levels."

In the past year, the Negev has become one of the leading hot spots for biking enthusiasts and the development committee, along with the Jewish National Fund and the Tourism Ministry, has spent NIS 2 million (about $500,000) to develop new biking trails and relevant infrastructure.