Escorted Tours, Packages & Trails
Israel is an unusual destination in that there are many major Jewish and Christian organizations that sponsor group tours and missions to the Holy Land. It’s always worthwhile to check with your synagogue or church as to what organized group tours they can direct you to. These package tours have the added advantage of zeroing in on sites and events that are of special interest to people who share your traditions and background.
HIKING & NATURE TRIPS
The Society for Protection of Nature in Israel (http://natureisrael.org), known as SPNI, offers a wide range of excellent nature and camping hikes and tours throughout Israel and beyond. Most tours are in Hebrew, but the guides are among the best in the business, and are generally fluent in English (as are most Israeli participants), so English speakers will not be left out. SPNI offers some tours in English.
Israel National Trail (www.israeltrail.net) is a planned, self-guided, 1,000km (621-mile) network of hiking routes and paths that run from the northern tip of Israel to the shores of the Red Sea and take you through places of natural beauty, historic sites, and a broad range of Israel’s many ethnic and religious communities. This is a wonderful resource and great for planning local hiking as well.
Jesus Trail (www.jesustrail.com) is a carefully planned program of walks and hikes through the area between Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, through the areas that Jesus would have known.
Desert Eco Tours (www.desertecotours.com) offers tours and camping trips in the Negev and Jordan’s Wadi Musa and Petra National Park.
BIKING TOURS & HOLIDAYS
Jerusalem Midnight Biking (www.jerusalembiking.com) offers inventive 3-hour guided nighttime bike tours of Jerusalem’s new and old cities for intermediate cyclists. In summer, tours are offered once a week; NIS 115 per person (NIS 230 including rental of mountain bike). Specially scheduled group tours can sometimes be arranged. Highly recommended.
CMBC, the Carmel Mountain Bike Club, is a group of Haifa-area cycling enthusiasts, including Jon Lipman, who maintain a detailed English-language website and will be happy to share advice and infor on activities, bike rides, and tours. For further information about mountain-biking in Israel, go to the site for Israel Bike Trails (www.israelbiketrails.com).
You can volunteer to work at an archaeological dig if you are 18 or older, prepared to stay for at least 2 weeks, and capable of doing strenuous work in a hot climate. You will have to pay your own fare to and from Israel. Most excavations take place between June and October, but there are off-season digs. Lectures are given at some sites, and some offer academic credit for the work. If you’d like to join a dig, it’s best to inquire as far in advance as possible.
The best summary of current digs is found each year in the January/February issue of the magazine Biblical Archaeology Review, available at many libraries and newsdealers. Biblical Archaeology Review’s listings include exactly whom to contact for information about joining each specific dig, as well as estimates on expenses for volunteers and a description of each dig’s recent finds. The Israel Ministry of Tourism North American Info Center (www.goisrael.com) will also give you general, updated information about finding a suitable dig.
The Biblical Archaeology Society (tel. 800/221-4644 or 202/364-2636; www.biblicalarchaeology.org), which publishes the Biblical Archaeology Review, organizes archaeology-based study tours of Israel and the surrounding region.
FOOD & WINE TRIPS
Savor Israel (www.israelfoodtours.com) offers a lively itinerary of day-long tours to Tel Aviv–Jaffa, Jerusalem, the Negev, and the Galilee. The tours include forays into Israeli haute cuisine, ethnic cooking, visits to local wineries, dairies, and Bedouin communities, and offer great insights into the land and the people of Israel. Groups are small, and prices run from $200 to $300 per person per day.
EatWith (www.eatwith.com) lets travelers connect with real Israelis and share a meal in their homes. A constantly changing group of host cooks is listed and the specialties of the house are explained, ranging from a simple vegetarian meal in a grad student’s apartment ($12) to a homecooked meal with a local foodie ($45 per person).
Volunteers for Israel (www.vfi-usa.org), arranges volunteer support positions in both civilian and military organizations in Israel. Assignments may include hospital work, repair work, and KP duty with noncombat sectors of the Israeli military. After you fulfill your 3-week obligations, you may be eligible for a special El Al discount fare. Application to this program requires a nonrefundable $100 fee.
SAR-EL NATIONAL PROJECT FOR VOLUNTEERS FOR ISRAEL---The Sar-El project offers eligible individuals the chance to volunteer on a short-term basis for the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). The most popular programs run from approximately 1 to 2 weeks and during that time volunteers stay on an Israeli army base which could be located anywhere in the country and perform basic volunteer work to help with the life of the base. You’ll interact not just with fellow volunteers but real Israelis doing their mandatory military service, making this, in our view, one of the more rewarding Israel volunteer programs. For details on how to apply visit www.sar-el.org
PLANT A TREE -- If you’d like to plant a tree in Israel with your own hands, contact the Jewish National Fund (www.jnf.org/support/tree-plantingcenter) or www.treesfortheholyland.com for more information. The cost per tree is $18.
JEWISH-ARAB DIALOGUE PROGRAMS -- One out of every five Israeli citizens living inside the pre-1967 boundaries of Israel is Arab. There are a growing number of dialogue and intercultural-understanding projects inside Israel for Israeli Arabs and Jews. You will often find Israelis from English-speaking countries, armed with democratic traditions and experience living in multicultural societies at the forefront of these projects. Visitors to Israel may observe these organizations and participate in lectures and tours that illuminate the problems and possibilities that exist for dialogue and understanding. Short-term volunteering is also doable. This can be a good way to encounter one of the most hopeful sides of Israeli society.Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salaam, 99761 Doar Na Shimshon (visitor programs [tel] 02/9996305; http://wasns.org), is a unique Israeli-Palestinian cooperative village near Jerusalem that sponsors programs for visiting youth groups, including meetings with Jewish and Palestinian youth; programs for peace-oriented groups; and tours for pilgrim groups, focusing on religious sites. Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salaam (which means “Oasis of Peace”) has a visitor center, guesthouse, and restaurant on its premises, and offers lecture programs.
New Israel Fund & Shatil Volunteer Programs (U.S. [tel] 202/842-0900; www.nif.org), is concerned with human rights, intercultural understanding, and education programs inside Israel. It sponsors professional exchange, volunteer, and intern projects, social change fellowships, as well as village volunteer-in-residence programs for teaching English and medical, business, and other skills.