THE WAILING WALL
Men and women are not allowed to pray together. Men should approach on the left, women on the right.
A major part of worshipping in the Jewish faith includes ritual cleansing. Around the plaza, you will see fountains for hand washing before heading to pray.
For women, knees, chest and shoulders must be covered. If you forget to bring a covering, guards will provide you with a piece of fabric for that purpose. Men should wear trousers and shoulders should be covered. Men must also cover their heads with a simple hat without decoration or a cap. Should you not have a hat with you, communal paper kippahs are available.
If you want to be super respectful, follow a Jewish custom by never turning your back on the wall. You will observe many people walking backwards from the wall because it is simply disrespectful to turn away.
Whether you are Jewish or not, you may also wish to place a prayer or wish into the wall. Feel free to write a prayer or wish on a piece of paper, fold it up and stick it into the wall. This can be done every day except on the Sabbath and holidays and add it to the mounds of slips that have been shoved into the cracks between the massive stones. These notes are collected twice a year and buried on the Mount of Olives.
Although this is a place of prayer and you might think it is going to be quiet, there can be tour groups and many Bar Mitzvah parties taking place. You will probably see excited crowds blowing the Shofar (Ram’s horn), singing, dancing and banging drums and releasing balloons.
Although the Western Wall is probably one of the most photographed sites in Israel, there are some rudimentary rules to follow:
Note: Do not take pictures of anyone’s face particularly when in prayer. Photography is not permitted on the Sabbath or holidays
Prayer Shawls – Men wear prayer shawls oftentimes they are white with blue and always have a fringe numbering 613 which corresponds to the number of laws. It is often worn around their shoulders, but will be put over the head for important prayers. According to information available, women should not wear religious items such as prayer shawls at the Wailing Wall.
The tallit (tall-EET) or tallis (TALL-us) is a large rectangular shawl made of wool, cotton or synthetic fibers. In each of the four corners of the shawl are strings tied in a particular pattern, called tzitzit. The origin of the tzitzit is Biblical, the practice is prescribed in Numbers 15. The precept is to put these strings on the four corners of one’s garment — in ancient tradition, with a single strand of blue as well–as a reminder of the duties and obligations of a Jew. Since we no longer wear four-cornered garments, the tallit is worn specifically to fulfill the Biblical precept.
While praying, you may observe people gathering the tzitzit in their left hand and kissing them when the paragraph from the Torah referring to them is recited. At the Wailing Wall you may see people rocking back and forth in fervent prayer openly sobbing.
Tefillin – You may also see men praying with a small box (called Tefillah) which contains scrolls or paper with verses from the Torah strapped to their heads. Each scroll can take up to 15 hours to make and contains 4 verses. These are then bounds to their hands, arms and head.
Fur Hats – You may see Orthodox men wearing large fur hats known as Shtreimels or Spodiks. These are work for special occasions but hold no religious symbolism. It has been said that they were popular in the countries that these religious sects came from.
During Shabbat and festivals, there are certain codes which are strictly enforced – it is strictly forbidden to smoke, take pictures or use digital equipment including smartphones.
TOMB OF KING DAVID
When entering the Tomb of King David, there is a special entrance for men and women. Since men must wear a kippah, you may want to bring your own even though they are supplied.
Considered holy for all 3 religions, women should dress modestly, with shoulders, knees and heads covered. Men also must wear kippahs.
For those tours that include a stop at the Baptism Site of Yardenit, there are 12 separate Baptismal pools. A Baptism is only permitted while wearing the special white robes which can be rented or purchase on the spot. Swim suits must be worn under the robes. A clergy can be provided to perform the Baptism at additional cost. There is no resident pastor on site. Baptismal kits which consist of a mandatory Baptismal robe, Baptismal certificate, a towel, entrance to the change facility and hot showers are available for rent or purchase. A donation to the pastor for performing the service is a courtesy. There is a handicapped accessible pool equipped with an inclinator to allow wheelchair access to the waters on site. The site also has handrails.
Some synagogues even have a short wall so that the men and women in the congregation cannot see each other.
BELZ GREAT SYNAGOGUE
When visiting the Belz Great Synagogue in Jerusalem visitors should dress modestly. Women should wear skirts that extend below the knees with sleeves below the elbow.
All events are gender-segregated. The interior can accommodate up to 6,000 worshippers. The ark is 12 meters high and weighs 18 tons. It is so large that it has been included in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Masada, the isolated mountain fortress of King Herod sits proudly on a massive plateau overlooking the Judean Desert. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, it has become the symbol of Judaic heroism. The chilling story of Masada began when King Herod built a palace here some 2000+ years ago. About a century later, a group of Jewish zealots trying to escape the Romans arrived and took shelter here. For a period of about seven years they were sheltered and protected. However, during this time, the Romans were constructing a ramp which would provide access to the top. Once completed, the Romans would advance and enslave the remaining zealots. Seeing that there was no escape and rather than be enslaved, all 960 of the zealots committed mass suicide.
There are three separate ways to arrive at Masada. You must choose your path beforehand. The Snake Path opens each day one hour before sunrise which is around 600 AM during winter and 500 AM during summer. The path closes for descent one hour before closing time.
For hikers there is the Masada Snake Path and the Roman Ramp and for others, the cable car.
To combine your visit with witnessing the sunrise is a magical and unforgettable experience. The most rewarding route is the Snake Path (east side). The 2 km trail along the side of the mountain is made up of loose rocks, stone steps, and dirt. If you are an experienced hiker, it should take you between 45-60 minutes. But it’s worth it….the views are breathtaking and there should not be a lot of people at that time since most of the visitors prefer the cable car. Make sure to have a map or guidebook since there will not be a guide with you.
REMEMBER – the summer is very hot, so bring lots of water, wear a hat and bring sunscreen.
The second routing, the Roman Ramp (west side), is found on the western side of Masada. This routing should take between 20 and 25 minutes to climb. The Roman Ramp Path opens for ascent every day half an hour before sunrise and closes for descent 15 minutes before closing time.
NOTE: This ramp is not accessible from the main road that takes you to the Masada National Park. It is possible if you are driving, otherwise you will have to find your way there from the main gate.
The third option is the cable car that began operation in 1971. It only takes minutes to get to the fortress on the top and the views en route are simply stunning. However, there is one drawback – the cable car does not operate before 800 A.M. So a sunrise option will not work.
THE DEAD SEA
Known in Hebrew as Yam Ha-Malakh (the Sea of Salt), the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. Nothing can survive in its high saline content waters. However, the Dead Sea is renowned for its healing therapeutic properties. An added benefit is that one cannot sink while in its waters. Since the Dead Sea is vanishing at an alarming rate, so try to visit as soon as you can.
There are several do’s and don’ts to consider when visiting the Dead Sea.
1. DO NOT SHAVE for at least 5 days before submerging in the water. It will be an incredibly painful experience
2. DO NOT STAY SUBMERGED for more than 10 minutes at a time
3. DO NOT ENTER THE WATER with any open cuts
4. DO NOT DIVE IN THE WATER to get mud for yourself
5. DO NOT PUT YOUR FACE IN THE WATER
6. DO NOT GET WATER IN YOUR EYES
7. RINSE YOUR BODY AS SOON as you get out of the water
8. REMEMBER THE MUD stains your bathing suit, so wear an old bathing suit
9. WEAR PROTECTIVE FOOTWEAR since you will be stepping on razor sharp salt crystals
10. CLOSE YOUR MOUTH WHEN IN THE WATER the salt water is very strong
11. DON’T SWIM, FLOAT move slowly to deeper water
12. DON’T LET YOUR HAIR GET WET the water is full of minerals and the salt is bad for your hair
WHAT TO REMEMBER WHEN VISITING ISRAEL
Always carry a bottle of water and stay hydrated. While touring, drink water regularly to avoid fainting or becoming dehydrated.
Since there are numerous holy sites in Israel, make sure when visiting any of them that you dress modestly. Dress appropriately. When visiting a mosque wear a hijab or cover your head. A pashmina comes in very handy.
Do not enter sacred places without a skullcap or headgear. If you are visiting a synagogue or the Western Wall, you must cover your head. Men put on a kippa and women put on headscarves.
To avoid any problems, do not discuss politics with locals or amongst yourselves.
Instead of worrying about what to pack for your trip, focus more on things that you should not bring such as clothing that has religious or political prints on them.
As in most places, hitchhiking is considered dangerous. Do not get into a stranger’s car.
On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, no one goes out on the road. Everything is closed from local shops to public places.
At kosher restaurants, you will never find pork or shellfish on the menu. Meat and dairy cannot be consumed together. So do not ever ask for a cheeseburger at a kosher restaurant. There are hundreds of non-kosher restaurants.
Orthodox Jewish laws strictly forbid physical contact with a member of the opposite sex unless it is a close member of the family such as a spouse, parent, child or sibling. Very Orthodox Jews make sure to stay a safe distance away from a member of the opposite sex.
Although it is mandatory in Israel to stop at every crossing where a person is waiting, no one can be trusted to that extent to pay total attention. Never cross the street without looking around carefully to make sure no one is speeding.
Each and every 18-year-old boy or girl is drafted into the Israeli Defence Force which is mandatory in Israel. You will no doubt see armed soldiers walking down the street wearing a gun, stopping for lunch at a local restaurant or sitting on the beach. This is completely normal in Israel.
Waiters in Tel Aviv live off of their trips rather than their salaries, so tipping is very common and usually between 10-15% of the meal. It would be considered rude not to leave a tip of 10% even if you received bad service. In most places, you can ask to have the tip included in your credit card payment.
The sound of a siren on Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) pays tribute to those killed in the Holocaust. Traffic stops and pedestrians stand still throughout the State of Israel for two minutes of silent dedication. The siren blows at sundown and once again at 11:00 A.M. on this date.
Yom HaZikaron is the day of national remembrance in Israel to commemorate all the soldiers and people who lost their lives during the struggle to defend the State of Israel. On this day we mourn and remember fallen soldiers and all lives lost by terror. Yom HaZikaron begins with a siren at 8:00 PM in the evening. As soon as the siren is heard, Israeli citizens stop whatever they’re doing, wherever they are, and stand firm to honor those they’ve lost. People driving on highways stop their cars in the middle of the road to get out and stand in remembrance.
The official “switch” from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha’atzmaut takes place a few minutes after sundown with a ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem in which the flag is raised from half-staff (due to Memorial Day) to the top of the pole. The president of Israel delivers a speech of congratulations and soldiers representing the Army, Navy and Air Force parade with their flags. The evening parade is followed by a torch lighting (hadlakat masuot) ceremony which marks the country’s achievements in all spheres of life.
Other than the official ceremonies, Israelis celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut in a variety of ways. In the cities, the night time festivities may be found on the main streets. Crowds will gather to watch public shows offered for free by the municipalities and the government. Many spend the night dancing Israeli folk dances or singing Israeli songs. During the daytime thousands of Israeli families go out on hikes and picnics. Army camps are open for civilians to visit and to display the recent technological achievements of the Israeli Defense Forces. Yom Ha’atzmaut is concluded with the ceremony of granting the “Israel Prize” recognizing individual Israelis for their unique contribution to the country’s culture, science, arts and the humanities.
Both of these two days take place in spring when a siren is heard throughout the country once in the evening and once in the morning. Each and every person in Israel stops what they are doing and stands still to remember the deceased and pay their respects. It would be considered very disrespectful to ignore the siren.
Smoking is direct violation of the laws of Shabbat, a religious day observed on Saturdays in Israel. Try to avoid doing it especially in front of Orthodox Jews.
Cities such as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Tiberias offer entrance to certain sights as well as free walking tours.