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November 4, 2009

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Jerusalem, Israel

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Shalom from Israel! Last week, we left off after our El Al flight touched down in Tel Aviv. This week, we hit Jerusalem. If you thought that Israel was unsafe and only for Jews (like I did), think again.

I’ve always been fascinated by Israel and for years I’ve wanted to visit. But like most of my friends, I was worried about many things, namely my safety. As you will see, all of my fears quickly disappeared once I arrived and I was pleasantly surprised.


First of all, let’s clear the air about the most important concern: safety. Every time I told my non-traveling friends or family members I was heading to Israel, they looked at me like I was crazy, followed by, “Be very careful.” I then sought advice from my experienced, well-educated traveling friends and family members, which was when I realized I had “nothing to fear but fear itself.” Most of them convinced me that Israel is safer than America in some ways. Someone went on to tell me that Israel is so safe that kids go to school on their own there; later, I saw a bunch of six-year-olds walking by themselves on their way to school, to prove that point.

I guess all those images on T.V. of war and unrest is similar to when there are forest fires, landslides or earthquakes in California. My East Coast friends all call me to ask if my house is on fire, sliding down a hill or in shambles. And I say: “No – I’m not near any of those places and if it wasn’t for you calling me, I wouldn’t have even known.” Like in Israel, those disasters take place in certain areas – not the whole country. Lesson learned: don’t believe everything you see or hear on the news.

At the Ben Gurion International Airport, Natalie and I met our guide, Amir (e-mail: or Tel: 011 972 523 806 800) and driver Eitan, who were one of the best duos I’ve ever had. They were arranged through the Israel tourism office and Amir usually tours around high profile celebrities or dignitaries, so we got lucky. The drive from the Tel Aviv airport to Jerusalem is about 35 minutes and along the way, Amir educated us with some fast facts:

1. The currency is New Israel Shekels (NIS) and the current exchange rate is 1.00 NIS = $0.26 USD or $1 USD = 3.75 NIS.
2. All Israelis are not Hasidic Jews - only a very small percentage (about 7%)
3. Israel has a land area of 8,522 square miles, which is slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey (8,722 sq miles)
4. Israel has an approximate population of 7.4 million. Only 75.5% are Jewish
5. Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages. However, English is widely spoken.
6. All the street signs are tri-lingual: Hebrew, Arabic and English
7. Friday sundown to Saturday sundown is Sabbath or Shabbat, which means “cease” or “rest”. So this is primarily a day of rest and spiritual enrichment.

We landed in morning and Amir suggested we stop at a Joe’s Office Café along the way for a snack and map out our week’s plan. Natalie ordered a NY Bagel with cream cheese, jam and tea/coffee (25 NIS). I had vanilla yogurt with granola and fruit (25 NIS). It was good but I felt more like I was in California than the Middle East.

Next stop: Gerald Halbert Park and Observation Plaza to see the contrast of the country. On one side is a lot of life and on the other – there’s nothing but the desert and the Dead Sea and Jordan off in the distance. We hopped back in the car and drove a short distance to the Mount of Olives, which took us through an Arab town … that surprised me too.

We were at the Rehav’am Lookout, which peeks over the old city of Jerusalem. This is tourist central because it’s the perfect place to begin the walking tour. I tried to listen to Amir as he told us some of the history but I couldn’t concentrate. All I could do was remind myself I wasn’t dreaming. I kept my eyes wide open wide and just tried to soak it in where I was actually sitting. It’s the same backdrop many news agencies use.

Natalie and I were so excited that we didn’t even go to the hotel to drop off our bags or take a shower. We just went straight to see some of the holiest Christian sites in the world. We also had a photo op with a friendly Arab and his donkey; the guy was so nice he kissed the palm of his hand before shaking mine. Of course, I had to cleanse it later with Purell.

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Pictures From

The Trip






Leaving the Airport


Road to Jerusalem


Lots of Greenery


3 Languages


Mercedes Taxis


Joe's Office Cafe


Gerald Halbert Park and Observation Plaza


Rehav’am Lookout


What a View!


Woo Hoo!


Cool Guy



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