Regardless of individual religious background, Israel should be visited at least once in a lifetime. Where else can you float on the heavy salt concentrate of the Dead Sea, revel in the ancient bazaars of Old Jerusalem or take in the modern beauties lazing on the white beaches of Eilat?
Margaret Morse Tours (tel. 800/327-3191; www.margaretmorsetours.com) has several package tours that focus on the entire country and offer interesting guided tours of some of Israel's holiest places including Masada, where the Hebrews chose death over Roman domination, and the Sea of Galilee where Christians believe a young Jesus Christ walked on water. If you leave on March 15, 2005, during the tour operator's "Spring Special," the 17-day air and land combo starts from $3,399 with a departure out of New York and $3,559 leaving from Miami. Other departures from April through September go up slightly with New York departures costing $3,599 and Miami departures around $3,759. The tour includes round-trip airfare on El Al Airlines, top-flight hotels, all breakfasts, all dinners at local restaurants, a gala dinner party, all gratuities, professional guides, entrances to all parks and sites, and best of all, a flight bag with a "portfolio of documents." The $78 United States and Israel departure fees are additional. The very comprehensive tour includes stops in Jerusalem, a tour of Via Dolorosa, Haifa, Eilat, the Holocaust museum at Yad Vashem, and other important historical sites. For those interested, Margaret Morse also offers Bar and Bat Mitzvah Family tours and provides sanctioned rabbis for services at Masada. Prices are approximately the same as above on a per-person basis.
IsramWorld (tel. 800/223-7460; www.isram.com) offers several land-inclusive trips to Israel from seven- to 13-night tours. With Thursday departures all year round (check with an Isram representative for exact departure dates), a nine-day seven-night trip includes a professional guide, a choice of several different three and four-star hotel plans, all transfers, eleven meals including a seaside dinner in beautiful Tiberius, a meal on a Kibbutz, a night tour of Jerusalem and a boat cruise on the Sea of Galilee. This seven-day trip hits such cultural and religious centers as Tel Aviv, Haiffa, Jerusalem and Tiberius. This quick trip to Israel starts at $2,300 depending on hotel package and choice of transportation ranging from small coach to van.
If you're looking to tour Israel with a religious affiliated tour group that concentrates on the educational aspects of traveling in the Holy Land, the American Jewish Congress (tel. 800/221-4694; www.ajctravel.com) has been taking travelers of all religious backgrounds to Israel for more than 45 years. Their "Israel Old and New" Tour for 2005 is a 13-day air/land package with an optional Eilat beach extension. The package includes an afternoon swim and mud bath in the Dead Sea and twenty some odd meals including five dinners. Hotels, including five nights at the well-known King David while you intimately and comprehensively tour Jerusalem, are all top notch. Prices include round-trip airfare from New York's JFK Airport and range from $3,495 with a February 2005 departure increasing to $4,045 in July and August 2005.
Tourists are slowly but steadily increasing their number each year since the beginning of the second Intifada. For current safety concerns for foreign travelers, head to the US State Department's consular information sheet at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_922.html. To talk with fellow travelers, head to Israel Message Boards by clicking here.