Tourism inside Israel - we meet again

The closing of the skies due to the COVID-19 pandemic afforded Israelis an opportunity to explore the alternatives to the famous Israeli wanderlust abroad.

The majestic King David Hotel in Jerusalem (photo credit: Courtesy)
The majestic King David Hotel in Jerusalem
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There is a German word for which no equivalent can be found when translated into English – “Tapetenwechsel”– which means literally “change of wallpaper,” but metaphorically is a change of scenery.

The closing of the skies due to the COVID-19 pandemic afforded Israelis an opportunity to explore the alternatives to the famous Israeli wanderlust abroad – tourism inside Israel. If there was one good thing that resulted from this pandemic it is that the mass of Israelis who would have traveled to Europe, US or Far East are now looking for a room in Jerusalem and hotels in the North and South of Israel.

The historic five-star King David Hotel under its new general manager, Tamir Kobrin, has reinvented itself. After decades abroad working in multiple leading international luxury hotels Kobrin has successfully navigated the switch from hosting exclusively overseas tourists to Israeli quests only.

As he explained to me, Israelis savor the actual hotel experience rather than spend entire days sightseeing only. Renowned chef Ron Antebi created new breakfast and dinner menus and gourmet selections for the Jewish holidays.

I was most impressed with Kobrin’s thinking outside the box; he introduced an array of fabulous programs, such as historical tours of Jerusalem with Dr. Haim Cohen, tours of the Old City, culinary tours of Mahaneh Yehudah, rooftop cocktails, afternoon teas with the Music Academy, music in the lobby lounge and sports activities. Kobrin collaborated with Shmuel Marom, former chairman of Israel’s incoming tourism office and founder of Global, who for years had organized cultural tours to Rome, Venice, Vienna and Berlin. As an alternative to overseas travel, the King David Hotel with its old-world charm and impeccable service, was chosen as the venue for monthly cultural vacations titled “We Meet Again.” Marom brought a group of star-studded speakers on topics ranging from cyber security to health to history. These personal encounters in this historic setting fill a void for so many who are tired of Zoom lectures and yearn for personal growth experiences.

My next destination was Pastoral in Kfar Bloom, or as it is also known, Little Switzerland. Having spent numerous summers in Switzerland, I had the image of the original to compare it with and was very pleasantly surprised. The name “Pastoral” truly reflects its essence evoking green pastures and tranquil landscape. There is a very genteel air about this place which one senses upon arrival. I can see why so many stressed-out city dwellers choose to escape to this calm resort in Upper Galilee to be able to take a deep breath in the pure air.

This newly renovated hotel was founded 63 years ago. What makes it unique is how it integrates cultural events with the experience of nature. I greatly enjoyed the open air concerts on the green lawn. Pastoral attracts a wide range of visitors – young and old, religious and secular – who all feel equally at home in this green landscape.

I happened to be there on a weekend for children and had no difficulty blending into the scenery as it was so much fun. No ID was required! Taking long walks in this breathtaking scenery I asked myself how come I hadn’t discovered Pastoral earlier. It was one of these places which leave you with a taste for more.

To seal my adventures in Israel I chose a place of healing we can all use during the pandemic. I headed to Mitzpe Alumot overlooking the Sea of Galilee. This health resort is in great demand now as people are more conscious of preventive medicine due to the coronavirus. The diet consists of raw food and green juices while integrating yoga and qigong into one’s daily health routine. Workshops geared toward teaching healthy eating habits are offered.

This Alumot Health Retreat was founded by Jerry Mintz, a successful Canadian real estate developer, in 2006. I was most impressed with Jerry’s personal touch, his compassion and eagerness to facilitate healing in his center.

After my tour of Israel this summer I was reminded of the classic hassidic tale of the hassid who dreamed of a treasure buried under a bridge near the king’s castle in Prague. He traveled far only to be told by the patrol chief that he himself had dreamed of a treasure under the oven of Rabbi Yeklish. Sure enough, the hassid returned home only to find the treasure under his own oven.

Exploring Israel this summer, I felt not like Alice in Wonderland, but Alice in the Holy Land. 

The writer is a journalist and director of TLC in Potomac, Marylad. She currently resides in Jerusalem