Throughout the trip, our hotels were high quality and conveniently located. Perhaps most memorable were the (included) buffet breakfasts that couldn't have been more lavish if they were produced by a high-society caterer. The food was local and fresh and mostly unlike what you would find in the US of A. Other meals were planned by our guide, Elad (el-AHD). We asked for hole-in-the-wall places with local specialties and he delivered just that.
We visited as many historic sites as one could possibly pack into our brief stay. Elad was an army veteran, former attorney, world-wide backpacker, professional licensed guide (after graduating from a two year course given by the Ministry of Tourism), and avid history buff. He envisioned each way-station as a living backdrop for his learned but good-humored historical commentary. On the first day, he took us from the Mount of Olives and its adjoining cemetery, through the old city of Jerusalem, to the Western Wall and recommended a restaurant close to the first night's activity, the spectacular light and sound show at the David Citadel Tower. The next day we were off to Masada and the Dead Sea, both offering important historical and geographic dimensions to the journey.
Soon we headed north to the Sea of Galilee. Given its Christian importance, I was surprised to see a youthful group of kayakers, water skiers, and swimmers immersed in its waters. In fact, at every step along the way I was surprised by the casual blend of the religious and secular. There seemed to be little outward recognition of the contradictions.
One of the highlights of the trip was our tour of the Golan Heights, partly in a Jeep that took us through areas studded with ominous yellow "warning, land mine" signs. Our guide for this leg of the trip, Ilon, was an expert in agriculture. He leaped out of the Jeep on several occasions to harvest examples of flowers, seeds, and vegetables for our examination. We were interested to learn that he lives on a kibbutz and, when not giving Jeep tours, he is a cowboy.
Thanks to Elad's flexibility and insider knowledge, we were able to deviate from the itinerary here and there to stop in at some special craft shops in the cities of Akko and Safed. There I was able to I purchase heirloom gifts directly from their creators for members of my family. He brought us to our final destination, Tel Aviv, the nigh before we were to depart. There we saw new monuments in the making. Not fortresses, churches, synagogues or mosques, but sparkling new hotels and apartment buildings.
Overall, our Israel journey exceeded our expectations in every way. I urge anyone with Jewish, Christian, or secular interests, to call Susan Weissberg and fashion a customized tour that you will bring you from the shrouded beginnings of civilization to the stark realities of the present. I am hoping that I will have the opportunity to return to Israel and spend more time with Israelis. Meanwhile, with Susan's and Elad's help, I made my long-held dream come true.