7 things you need to know before visiting Israel! By: C4i

Israel is a beautiful country, one that is extremely welcoming to tourists and visitors of all kinds. With a huge percentage of the population speaking multiple languages, a developed tourism industry that minimizes hassle, and a friendly population, a tourist in Israel never needs to feel lost or confused! 

However, there are a few things you need to be mindful of. Like every other country on the planet, Israel has its own ways of doing things that might seem a little surprising if you’re from another culture. Below are seven things you should be aware of when traveling to the Holy Land!

Sharing a plate is normal!

 
Israeli’s love their food! Dining in Israel isn’t just about getting enough calories in your system to sustain you through the day, it’s a total social experience. When you order in an Israeli restaurant, you’ll typically be ordering a main dish that will be shared by everyone at the table. Many foods are designed to be shared either by having members of the table dip slices of bread into them or portioned up and distributed to everyone evenly. If you’ve ever eaten at an Indian or Dim Sum restaurant the experience is very similar. 

So be mindful of what you pick off a menu and be aware that if you order a main dish just for yourself, you may get a few odd looks. This might sound intimidating, but really this is good news for you and your travel mates, as you’ll be able to sample multiple dishes every meal! Order a couple of dishes to split and you’ll enjoy a wider variety than you ever could alone!

Tipping is encouraged

Speaking of meal times, always be good to your waiters and hosts. It is common for waitstaff at Israeli restaurants to receive either no hourly wage or such a meager pittance it might as well be nothing. These workers rely on tips for almost all of their income, so stiffing someone in Israel isn’t just poor form, it hurts their ability to care for themselves and their families! A typical 15% gratuity should be enough to stay on everyone’s good side.

This also goes for cabbies, bagmen, room service, and any other service personnel. Israel has a rich tipping culture and these transactions are what makes the country go around. 

Smoking rules

Coming from a province or state where public smoking has been all but eliminated for decades now, a trip to Israel can seem like a trip back in time in some respects. Although the Knesset recently passed stronger anti-smoking laws to discourage public smoking, it is still fairly common to see someone taking a quick puff in a nightclub, bar, or in the outside seating area at a café. Technically these actions are prohibited, but enforcement is often lax (especially in night life hotspots such as Tel Aviv) and plenty of people still bend the rules.

One time you won’t see much smoking, however, is on Saturday. Smoking is prohibited on Shabbat and the social stigma surrounding it is stronger than police enforcement of no-smoking areas! It’s considered bad taste to be caught smoking on Shabbat so if you are a smoker, be aware of that and try to smoke in private on the weekend to avoid offending anyone!

Feel free to haggle (in the right places)

 
Something that may excite some (and petrify others) is the idea of haggling over prices. Those of us who enjoy making deals and scouting out bargains will be thrilled to know that with outdoor vendors and market stalls, haggling isn’t just accepted, it’s encouraged! When you go someplace like the Jaffa flea market, the sticker price is more of a "suggestion” than anything else and those with a gift for gab can find some amazing deals. If you’re not particularly fond of haggling, it’s recommended you team up with someone who is if you go shopping at a market, so you don’t wind up with an empty pocket book.

Of course, this only applies to markets where that behavior is expected. Try haggling in an Israeli supermarket, convenience store, or hotel, and you can expect it to go as well as trying to haggle down the price at your local Walmart. 

Different beaches for everyone

If you’re visiting during the hot months, a trip to the beach to cool off might be an excellent choice! Israel boasts a number of incredible, beautiful beaches, but it pays to do your homework before you head to one. Beaches in Israel tend to cater to specific groups of people. Some beaches are family friendly, while others attract a rowdier crowd. Some are popular with specific religions, while others are purely secular. 

If all of this sounds complicated or intimidating, don’t worry. Which beaches are for which crowds isn’t a big secret or anything. Ask any local which beach is right for you and you should have no problems finding one where you’ll have a great time!

Expect to see some security

As we discussed in a recent blog, security is something they take seriously in Israel. You can expect to see a slightly heavier (and more well armed) police and military presence on the streets while visiting. But remember, that doesn’t mean it isn’t safe or you have to worry about an incident sparking off at any moment. Military service is compulsory for all young adults so there is an abundance of fatigue clad young men and women putting in hours by guarding all kinds of places and establishing a presence. 

As long as you stay away from direct conflict zones and act with a modicum of common sense, your trip to Israel should be safe and pleasant. Just prepare for the culture shock of seeing the occasional uniformed 18-year-old carrying a rifle.  

Be respectful of different religions and observances

Israel is home to a diverse and beautiful population. While modern areas like Tel Aviv feel just like Toronto or any other major city, there are some cultural sensitivities you should keep in mind. For example, Orthodox Jews have major prohibitions regarding contact with members of the opposite sex. This can manifest in people from the opposite gender giving you a wide berth like there is an invisible wall around you. Don’t take offense, this is just them trying to avoid accidental touching. 

This is something you should also keep in mind as you visit historical and religious landmarks. If you are going to be visiting places like the Wailing Wall or the Birthplace of Jesus, be sure to dress appropriately for the occasion. You don’t need to be in a full suit or Sunday dress or anything. As long as you are dressed modestly and respectfully, you shouldn’t have any problems. 

Never be afraid to ask questions!

 
If you’re ever unsure about something, just ask! Israeli’s appreciate forthrightness, and it’s better to just ask about something than to try and suss out the answer yourself. Israel is a lively, friendly country and as long as you approach people with a smile and respect they’ll do everything they can to make sure you have a great time!

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Akhzivland, the micronation inside Israel you’ve never heard of before nowBy: C4i

 
The "micronation” is a stock cliché in sit-coms, cartoons, and comic books -- a two-bit "state” set up by some whack job with a landmass typically no larger than the average parking lot and a single digit population. It seems like something Kramer or Daffy Duck would get up to.

But, on the Northwest tip of Israel you can find Akhzivland. Akhivland is a for-real micronation, and one that might be stranger than fiction.

A nation built from scratch

The history of Akhzivland began in 1952 with a man named Eli Avivi. Following the Arab-Israeli wars when the nation was still young, Eli happened upon a coastal stretch that contained a ruined village formally named Akhziv. Eli quite liked the area -- it was off the beaten path, had a beautiful beach, and it was seemingly forgotten. He liked it so much, he decided to build a few huts. And then a house. And then he moved all his things into that house and started living there. Only problem is, construction in the area was illegal. Uh oh.

As you might imagine, Eli was quite the character in his own right. While the idea of some guy carving out a chunk of Israel and claiming it as his own might spark images of a provocateur or thief, Eli’s story isn’t so cut and dry. He spent his formative years fighting for the Israeli people and was a member of the Israeli underground navy, smuggling Jewish settlers into the land. While he is known now as a pot smoking bohemian who ruled his own quasi-nation, Eli would have been considered a patriot during the early days of Israel’s existence. It’s difficult to say why he flouted Israeli law so brazenly when he built his home. By all accounts he was a whimsical man, so maybe he just felt like the little slice of beach was the right place for him.

Everything was fine for twenty years. Eli lived in his home with his wife Rina beneath the notice of any serious authorities. But, in 1970, the law finally caught up with him when a planned highway cut right through his home. Authorities sent bulldozers to forcibly evict what they saw as a squatter, but Eli fought back. 

With a comical amount of self confidence, Eli declared the entire area the sovereign territory of the land of Akhzivland and the bulldozing of any of his property an illegal and hostile act. It was a crazy gambit, but the most bizarre part about it is that it worked.  Eli kicked up enough of a stink and fought hard enough that the government seemingly lost interest. The court ruled to lease Eli the area of 10,000 m² for 99 years as a sort of compromise. While the court never officially recognized the legitimacy of Akhzivland, it didn’t press the issue either. 

And so, in 1971, a "nation” was born. 

The important works of a micronation on the rise

Technically, Akhzivland is a democracy, but with an official permanent population of two, the point is kind of moot. Eli was nominated president of Akhzivland by a vote of 1-0 in its first and only election and the constitution (yes, they made a constitution) reads "The president is democratically elected by his own vote.”

Every bit as silly as a sit-com, Eli and Rina leaned into the nation building aspect of being a micronation. They created an official flag (three bars of blue and yellow with the image of a mermaid and the Avivi home), a national anthem, and even stamped passports for visitors – and the pair received many visitors. 

Ever since it’s inception, Akhzivland was a destination for the off-beat and unusual, as fitting a tiny pocket nation. Eli and his wife were hippy pacifists who dabbled in all kinds of psychedelic experimentation, making their home a hotspot for the young and rebellious. They were counter-culture symbols in their own right, a pair of regular people who dared to step out of line and make something for themselves.

They weren’t just popular with young hippies either. Over the years famous personalities such as Paul Newman, Sofia Loren, and Bar Refaeli have visited the tiny nation to pay their respects to it’s de facto president. The pair enjoyed a kind of ironic notoriety among the rich and famous, enough to make them frequent hosts to musicians and celebrities. 

Fun fact about Akhzivland, it is technically the most peaceful country in the Middle East. The micronation has never been involved in any sort of conflict – not that they’d fare too well if they were. Eli was also technically one of the longest serving rulers "in power” in the Middle East.

End of an era

Unfortunately, Eli passed away in May of this year at the age of 88. His death puts the long-term future of Akhzivland into question, with no one knowing what will happen to the lease the Israeli government signed. As of now though, Rina is still living on the land and accepting visitors.

Akhzivland is a strange curiosity that will likely fade into history soon, but it’s memory and spirit will live on with all self-styled iconoclasts who dream of building something of their own.

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Swim with the dolphins of the Red Sea!By: C4i

 
- Photo taken by Tony Malkevist for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism 
 
Swimming with the dolphins is a classic fantasy, a dream vacation that many hope to enjoy one day. But where would be the best place to do it? In the Gulf of Mexico? Maybe at a resort in the Dominican? How about on a Red Sea beach in Eilat?
The Dolphin Reef in Eilat might be the single best place on the planet to live out your aquatic dream!

With over 10,000 square meters of semi-enclosed waters with buoyed nets and an average depth of 12 meters, the Reef is a vast and spacious destination that encourages exploration. Established in 1990, the Reef has been home to generations of beautiful bottlenose dolphins who call the area home. 

What makes this attraction so unique is its commitment to respecting the freedom and dignity of the dolphins. Unlike other marine life attractions which disrupt the creature’s natural living arrangements and subject them to captivity and training to perform amusing tricks for ticket holders, the dolphins of the Reef are left to their own devices. There are no shows where they balance balls on their nose, no hoops they’re forced to jump through to earn their lunch.

Instead, the Reef offers something better. The chance to truly connect with these magnificent, intelligent creatures and marvel at their natural God-given splendor. Dolphins don’t need to be trained to do tricks to be entertaining – they are natural show offs! Dolphins are playful and observant all on their own. They have games they play with each other, relationships they build with other dolphins, and are endlessly curious about their human visitors.

At the Reef you can observe the dolphins in their natural habitat reveling in their natural behavior, a spectacle far more entertaining and enlightening than any scripted show. You can watch as the dolphins play, hunt, socialize, and care for their youth, all in the comfort of their own waters. The dolphins are given access to the open sea, free to come and go as they please, with intervention kept at a minimum (staff will only insert themselves in the interest of preserving and protecting the dolphins). 

Visitors can wander the network of suspended observation decks that allow for easy viewing of all the sea life in the area and are free to swim in the waters and mingle with the dolphins. But for those of us who really want the full experience, you can get an up-close view of all of this through the Reefs snorkeling and SCUBA tours. These tours are guided by professional divers and biologists who know the waters and the animals that call it home. A session consists of two parts, a safety class and exploration. During the class, visitors are fitted for their gear, asked relevant medical questions, and given directions on the use of their equipment and how to signal for help should they need it. After that, instructors take the class beneath the waves to explore the crystal-clear reef and the many wonders to be found in it! 

Aside from the dolphins, visitors can expect to see angelfish, butterflyfish, seahorses, cuttlefish, and both bluespotted and blackspotted stingrays among others in the water! On land, the attraction also includes rare birds from the area including magnificent peacocks!
After a day of diving, visitors can unwind at the site’s relaxation water pools. These pools are set inside a leafy botanical garden like a desert oasis. There are three separate soft-water heated pools to choose from including a sweet water pool, a sea water pool, and a sulphur pool. A sulphur water soak might not sound pleasant if you’re unfamiliar with the idea, but many claim that sulphur water has a variety of therapeutic benefits, particularly soothing to sore joints and backs (perfect after a long day walking all over and exploring).

If one really wants to get the most out of their visit, they can set up a spa appointment and be pampered in the pools. Nothing will work out those vacation sore spots like a relaxing soak in the pool followed by a professional massage.

Who would have thought a desert nation like Israel would be hiding one of the premier marine life experiences on the planet? Just another wonder from a nation that seems to contain an inexhaustible supply of them. 
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The memory of Elie WieselBy: C4i

 
When confronted with horror beyond the scope of imagination, the natural response is the look away. To shield yourself from the terror and madness. For those who have experienced such things, those memories are as sharp as knives and must be kept safely locked away to avoid further harm. It’s a natural, human reaction, but one that can have tragic consequences. When we don’t learn to recognize evil, we are bound to be taken by it again.

Elie Wiesel stared directly into the greatest atrocity of human history. He experienced the full horror of the Nazi’s "final solution” to the Jewish people and somehow managed to survive. But, he did not look away, he did not bury his memories down where they couldn’t reach him anymore. No, Elie Wiesel brought his harrowing account of the holocaust to the world, so nobody could ever forget the mistakes and sins of the past.

Wiesel’s early life was like many other children. He was born in 1928 in Sighet, a town in Romania. He lived there with his family in a small Hasidic community. It was a quiet life.  Both of Elie’s parents were community figures in their own way, devout and introspective. They encouraged Elie to pursue literature and study the Torah along with his three siblings. 

These days would soon turn dark. WWII was brewing and in Sighet, like so many places in Europe, it was becoming increasingly dangerous to be a Jew. In 1940, Sighet was annexed by Hungary, who’s government was allied with Nazi Germany, creating an uneasy situation. 

Tensions would boil over into terror though in 1944 when Germany officially occupied Hungary and removed all pre-tense of allowing the state autonomy or control. Immediately, every Jew in the nation became a target of Hitler’s mad regime and it wasn’t long before Wisel’s entire family were arrested, corralled into a cattle car, and sent to Auschwitz. 

Elie’s mother and youngest sister, Tzipora were executed on arrival. Brutally murdered after a casual inspection could prove "no useful utility” for an ailing mother and young child. The rest of the family were separated, with Elie’s surviving two sisters taken to the women’s camp while he and his father were sent to be used for hard labour until they were no longer of use.
And work they did. Elie and his father Shlomo were pressed into slave labour under the most brutal conditions imaginable. A number was burned into Elie’s arm that he would carry with him the rest of his life. They worked through starvation, beatings, torture, and an inescapable miasma of constant death and dehumanizing savagery. They kept each other alive. What gave Elie the strength to survive another day was the knowledge that his father would die without him, that he couldn’t take the heartache. 
It was this connection that kept them alive in the camp, but nothing could have prepared them for the death march to Buchenwald. With the allies moving in, the Nazis enacted a strategy of hiding of their war crimes and ensuring that camps would not be liberated by moving large masses of prisoners to other camps by foot. Soldiers would first cull the number of prisoners with summary executions and then march the remainder through freezing conditions to a new camp, anyone who could not keep pace would be killed and left on the road. The Wiesel men made the march, but the toll was too much for Shlomo and he died at the end of January 1945. In April, the camp would be liberated.

Freed from the camp and reunited with his two surviving sisters, Wiesel relocated to France to pick up the pieces of his life. He returned to school after having his teenage years so cruelly interrupted to study journalism and soon worked with several French and Israeli papers. With his lifelong love of literature and nascent career as a journalist, it would seem natural that he would write about his experiences, but he couldn’t do it. The pain was still too searing, the wounds too fresh to examine.
It would be years before Elie could confront what was done to him and his family. For a decade Wiesel wrote nothing about the holocaust. It was only after years of healing and the urging of some of his closest friends, including novelist Fancois Mauriac, before he would address the topic.

The result was Wiesel’s first book, Un di Velt Hot Geshvign, or, And the World Remained Silent. Better known by it’s shortened name – Night.

Night was Wiesel’s first-hand account of his experience of the holocaust, a harrowing tome that brought the true, raw, horror of the holocaust into the laps of readers across the world. An account stripped of clinical language or euphemisms of casualty rates or procedures, one that spoke plainly to the true brutality of hatred. Of what happened in the darkest corners of the darkest period of human history. Words that spoke to the deep pain of betrayal and disbelief among the inmates that the world could allow this to happen to them.

Over 10 million copies of Night have been sold. It is considered a monumental text and historical document. 
From that time onward, all of Wiesel’s work would spring from his experiences in the Holocaust. It was like a dam had broken and he needed to let the tears flow free. He was determined to make sure that everybody understood what had happened and how it had been allowed to happen. As he said himself:

"Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.”
We must remember 

Elie Wiesel died in 2016 at the age of 87, but his words still live on. We must never allow ourselves to forget what happened in the Holocaust. We must never avert our eyes again.
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When textbooks teach hate: Indoctrination in Palestine By: C4i

 
I remember my grade school text books, not always fondly, but I do remember them. I remember the frustration of math homework, the wonders of history, and learning about the scope of the world through geography. I remember how they introduced topics through the years, growing and changing with the students. The simple allegory of 3 baskets of 10 apples to teach early multiplication. The bizarre cartoons in the French textbooks where the punchline always got lost in translation. The puns and witticisms making Shakespeare and Bronte more approachable for modern teenagers. 

These simple, healthy images may be familiar to us, but they aren’t to other children. Under the Palestinian Authority’s watch, children in Palestine are learning very different lessons from their texts. Lessons in hate and fear designed to further racial and ideological divides in the troubled nation.

A report by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education examined the k-12 textbooks published for the Palestinian Authority’s curriculum since a major revamp in the year 2000. The results were disturbing. Basic educational texts for foundational studies such as math and grammar have been heavily politicized, often incorporating violent themes. They found that across all grades and subjects, these texts are "teaching Palestinian children that there can be no compromise”.
The report details many examples that cut across all grades and topics; subjects needlessly laced with poisonous commentary designed to indoctrinate young minds while they are trying to learn. For example, fourth graders learning their multiplication tables are walked through an example counting the number of martyrs killed by Israel; a blood-soaked example designed to inspire fear and distrust.

Another example the report details takes place in a high school physics text. In what might be considered grim humor if it wasn’t so tasteless, Newton’s Second Law of Motion, that the acceleration of an object as produced by a net force is directly proportional to the magnitude of the net force, is illustrated by way of a Palestinian firing a slingshot against IDF troops. This is a particularly irresponsible piece of flare for such a simple topic. Inspiring teens to confront armed soldiers with slingshots puts their own lives in danger, which will only feed the cycle of violence.

Most distressingly, according to the report, the texts frequently conflated "Jews” and "Zionists,” essentially using the terms interchangeably. This is notable since most racial bias against the Jewish people is cloaked under the cover of "Zionist” opposition. Conflating the two terms reveals the real target of the Palestinian Authority’s ire, the Jewish people.
While the report elaborates on a few bright spots such as the acknowledgement of Palestinian terror attacks against Israel, the overall summation is still distressing. A generation of children are growing up with a warped perspective of the world, and a specifically cultivated prejudice against the Jewish people.

This kind of hatred needs to be confronted and countered. Palestinian children deserve educational texts that do not predispose them towards the cycle of violence and aggression that has plagued the area for decades. And the Jewish people do not deserve to be slandered and scapegoated to an entire generation. 

Reconciliation can only happen when both sides decide to move forward. The Palestinian Authority can not hope to see peace while it uses its own children’s minds as a battleground.  
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How safe is it to visit Israel?By: C4i

 
The Holy Land is a place every Christian should try to visit at least once in their lives. It’s a land steeped in history, culture, and biblical importance that simply must be experienced first hand. Unfortunately, it is also a land steeped in conflict. 

When you watch the news and see reports of Hezbollah rocket attacks, indiscriminate kite bombings, and continued skirmishes along border fences, it’s can seem like Israel is a land under siege. For as valuable as a trip to the Holy Land may be, it begs the question – is it safe to visit Israel?

The answer, despite what you may think, is yes.

Nobody is going to say that Israel is a nation without issues. Yes, there are numerous groups and neighbouring states that have sought to destabilize and intimidate the Israeli people for decades, and yes, this often takes the form of violence. But that is only a small part of Israel’s story, and one that should not prevent you from exploring and experiencing its many wonders.

It’s not preventing other people! 2017 was a record-breaking year for Israeli tourism, with more people coming from more quarters of the world than ever before. 3.6 million people safely enjoyed their time visiting the Holy Land last year with no notable incidents of violence or terrorism harming any of them. With 2018 shaping up to exceed 2017’s record numbers, you should be more worried about long lines to some of the most popular sites than anything Hamas is getting up to.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that while Israel has problems, those issues are concentrated in a few key areas. If you go to the Gaza strip for example, you run a higher risk of being involved in an attack because that is an active conflict zone (and has been for years). If you go to the Syrian border, you may be at a higher risk. But these are comparatively small portions of the country. In the vast majority of the country, things work like anywhere else. People go about their business, they travel, gather, go to night clubs, eat at restaurants, and live their lives.
Israel is a very security conscious state, it has to be considering what they’ve been up against historically. As a visitor from a comparatively more peaceful country such as Canada or the US, it may be jarring to see soldiers with rifles at the airport or heavily armed police in some of the larger metropolitans. But those soldiers and police are there not because they are responding to an immediate threat, but to establish a presence and deterrence in those areas -- and it’s been working. The security measures Israel has adopted have been widely successful at deterring large scale attacks, which is why the attacks you do see along the Gaza border, like those balloon bombs for example, are so random and hands-off. Malicious actors know they can’t operate anywhere else with impunity.

Israel is as safe to visit as any other modern, high-population state. There is no reason to deny yourself an incredible experience. Use common sense, check for any travel advisories before leaving for your trip, avoid the most conflict prone areas, and you can be 99.9% sure to enjoy Israel with no problems!
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What is Yom HaAliyah?By: LifeWEB Admin-NR

 
We’re all familiar with major Israeli holidays like Yom Kippur and Hanukkah, but when it comes to Yom HaAliyah, it’s entirely possible you’ve never even heard of it! That’s not surprising, Yom HaAliyah is a new addition to the Israeli calendar. However, despite being only a few years old, it is still a significant holiday and worth knowing about to have a deeper understanding of Israeli culture.

Yom HaAliyah, or Aliyah Day, is celebrated annually on the tenth of the Hebrew month of Nisan and observed in schools on the seventh of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan. This year, it was celebrated on April 5th and is being observed on Oct 15th. The days are set aside as a recognition and celebration of Aliyah (those of Jewish descent immigrating to Israel), recognizing immigration as a core value of Israel, and acknowledging the many contributions immigrants have made to the nation. 

The push to have a national day of recognition for Aliyah began in 2012. A grassroots campaign of regular citizens and non-profit groups began to push for a special day to celebrate a key aspect of Israeli life and culture. The message proved popular and gained support from other organizations and enjoyed bi-partisan support across party lines in the Knesset. In 2016, the holiday was officially formed.

The date for the holiday was specifically chosen due to its biblical significance. According to the Book of Joshua, the Israelites crossed the Jordan River at Gilgal into the Promised Land on that day. This would have been the first Aliyah by a large group of people.
The day of observation was also chosen due to biblical significance. The seventh of Cheshvan coincides with the date in which Abraham is told to leave his home to go to what is now Israel. The idea is to make a direct modern connection to the historical roots of the state of Israel.

On Aliya Day, schools set aside their regular lesson plans for special classes and presentations. They learn about the history of the nation, the cultural significance of Aliyah, and the contributions immigrants have made and continue to make to Israel. A ceremony is also preformed at the President’s Residence that is broadcast and shared throughout the nation.

It is a powerful message. Aliyah has always been a fundamental building block of the nation, there is no other country in the world where former residents and the descendants of former residents have returned to their land en masse and reclaimed it as their own. Almost half of all Israeli residents are immigrants, and that is significant. This is not a population that exists as an accident of birth and circumstance, but a population of conscious choice. Of men and women from across the world seeing something worth believing in and taking the chance to relocate to a new place and start a new life in their ancestral home. 

That is a truly daring action, one worth celebrating! When you consider the sheer magnitude of what immigration means to the individual and then think of an entire nation built on that impulse, the only mystery is why Israel didn’t have a holiday to celebrate it sooner!
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The Ramon Crater, a natural wonder that needs to be seen to be believed By: C4i

 
Makhtesh Ramon (commonly known as the Ramon Crater) is one of Israel’s greatest hidden treasures. You might wonder how an 839-meter-tall massive cliff face can be considered a "hidden” treasure, but you have to remember that this is Israel, a nation abundant in both historical and natural splendor. The Ramon Crater has stayed off the popular tourist radar only because of a sheer glut of other famous historic and natural locations.

But it won’t stay a secret for long. The town of Mitzpe Ramon is quickly becoming a popular tourist spot for those eager to see another side of Israel. From the majesty of the Makhtesh Ramon cliffside, to the many other natural attractions in the area, and the development of several intriguing dining options and comfortable lodgings, Mitzpe Ramon has a lot to offer anyone who is willing to step off the beaten path of the typical tourist spots.

Established in 1951, Mitzpe Ramon has humble origins. Originally designed as little more than a camp for workers laying down the road to Eilat, the small town became something of a pitstop as people made their way to the Southern point of Israel. Never a booming area by any stretch, but with just enough traffic and interest to support a small community. 

But that’s changed in recent years thanks to both positive developments inside the small town, and the changing demographics of Israel. Route 40, the road that winds through Mitzpe Ramon, has become a popular alternative to the busy and chaotic Road 90. This route has not only increased the number of people passing through and supporting local businesses, but also the number of eyes on the Ramon Crater, highlighting what a natural beauty it really is. Combine this with the election of a new mayor intent on expanding the town and establishing the Ramon Crater as one of Israel’s top tourist spots, and things have slowly turned around for the town.
Today, Mitzpe Ramon is home to a thriving community of artists, restaurateurs, and thrill seekers, eager to explore everything the area has to offer. If you’re visiting, the question isn’t "what can we do here?” but "what should we do first!?”

The easy answer to that is of course, "go see the crater!” The Visitor’s Center at the top of the Crater provides an absolutely perfect vantage point to witness the sheer scope and size of the crater. You can grab a few pictures and have a splendid time just touring the various perches and perspectives available here. If you want the full experience though, you’ll want to take a tour of the crater itself.

Multiple companies are currently running jeep and walking tours through the crater. Jeep is definitely the way to go here, allowing you to see more of the area (not to mention being a lot easier on the knees).  A tour won’t just show you the crater in detail, but also nearby locations like Zin Valley, an actual oasis featuring natural springs and vegetation concealed by walls of rock and desert sand! 

If you are feeling particularly daring, you might be interested in rappelling down the side of the crater. Definitely not for the faint of heart! Experienced guides can help outfit you with the gear and skills you need to safely step over the ledge and get a real sense for just how tall the crater truly is.

After a day of risking life and limb (or maybe, wisely, just watching experienced hands do it), come back into town and relax and unwind. Hit up the Spice Route Quarter for a variety of lovely restaurants and cafes featuring the local cuisine. There are some real gems here with menus you won’t find anywhere else in the country, so be sure to sample a few!

Rather than make the drive back to one of the big cities, stay the night. The luxury Beresheet Hotel in town offers an upscale relaxation option if you feel like cooling off in a pool or (if you maybe overdid it rappelling the crater earlier) ordering some room service. But of course, that’s just one option. Mitzpe Ramon also offers a number of smaller, more intimate hotels and B&Bs that will give you a taste of life in the area. There are options for all kinds of budgets and experiences, so be sure to ask around and find a place that suits your tastes!

Mitzpe Ramon is a bit out of the way, but if you’re looking for something unique and special to mark your trip to Israel, you won’t find a better spot. 

Join Rev. Dr. John Tweedie on the Encounter Israel tour, April 4-14, 2019 and see the Ramon Crater for yourself!
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How Mossad used a fake resort to safely rescue Ethiopian JewsBy: C4i

Arous was a rare treat in the Sudanese desert. A top-quality resort with the finest of amenities. Fresh food and wine? Check. A beautiful sun-dappled beach? Check. SCUBA diving and sea wreck exploration and adventure? Check. A hidden Mossad intelligence agency working in their midst?

Check.
- Gad Shimron

Arous wasn’t just a unique resort due to its location and the clientele it served. The trapping of the luxury resort concealed a hidden secret. Arous was the base of operations for Israeli intelligence agents conducting a massive humanitarian mission. From the ground up, they planned, bank rolled, and re-opened the resort to support their mission. And for more than four years, they carried out a highly successful operation right under the noses of staff, tourists, and Sudanese forces. 

Between 1983 and 1985 Ethiopia was hit by the worst famine to ever ravage the desperate nation. Drought exacerbated by the totalitarian actions of Ethiopia’s government (done under the veil of crushing a nascent insurgent movement) led to the deaths of more than 400,000 individuals. The crisis kicked off an Ethiopian civil war that would last for a decade, throwing millions into chaos, homelessness, and desperation.

Both the international community and the public responded. The mega-concert Live Aid was created to both raise awareness of the plight of the Ethiopians and fundraise for relief. However, the international response was stilted. Despite numerous countries providing aid, little was done to address the structural causes and conflict that accelerated the famine, leaving millions in a precarious situation. 
Among them, thousands of Ethiopian Jews, who not only suffered from the famine like everyone else, but also became a specific target for their government, were prohibited from practicing their religion and barred from traveling. Seeing the writing on the wall, and knowing all too well what happens when a government starts singling out Jews as a specific threat, Ethiopian Jews started fleeing the area en masse. Many ended up traveling to neighbouring Sudan by foot, enduring some of the most miserable conditions on the planet just for a chance at freedom.

The Israeli government was determined to deliver them this freedom, and so "Operation Brothers” was conceived. A massive effort to locate, safeguard, and smuggle Ethiopian Jewish refugees to safety.  But Sudan was an avowed enemy of the state of Israel, a nation with its own prejudices against the Jewish people. Discretion was necessary, and the Mossad hatched a plan to hide its refugee operation in plain sight.
The Arous resort was originally the brain child of Italian developers in the 1970s. They had big ambitions for a tiny beach resort in an area of the world they saw as underserved and ripe for tourist opportunities. Unfortunately, the project was a boondoggle from day one. With no electricity or running water, and difficulties in attaining these basic utilities, the project never got off the ground. The Italian investors built a dozen bungalows and a kitchen out in the desert and abandoned them. Rough break for those businessmen, but just what the Mossad needed.

Engineering false passports and a series of phony shell companies that would allow them to pose as a Swiss investment group, Mossad agents rented the property for a paltry sum and began renovations.

The plan would have been too obvious if some weird "Swiss” guys simply rented out an abandoned resort and drove truckloads of unaccounted for materials out of it for years. No, if this was going to work, the resort had to be functional, it had to genuinely support tourism. The resort was renovated, utilities were brought online, and staff were poached from local restaurants and hotels by means of Mossad’s deep pockets (after scouting out professional and discreet staff members at local establishments, staff members were recruited by being offered double or even triple their normal pay). 

This is how windsurfing was introduced to Sudan, as one of the many new exotic European recreation options for the resort. Including diving, where bright faced "Swiss” instructors demonstrated how to safely dive and swim with SCUBA gear. 

In fact, this was the cover most of the Mossad agents in the resort used. Smoothing over any suspicions by playing up the role of young, eager European instructors, brought on to manage the more unique aspects of the resort. The diving supply room was kept "out of bounds” for guests and other staff, presumably because it housed expensive equipment. And it did. Expensive radio and communications equipment for organizing their real mission.
Refugees were never housed at the hotel, that would have been too risky. Instead, working in collaboration with local Israeli sympathisers, the group would organize daring rescues that would see trucks from the resort "touring” the area and discreetly picking up groups and depositing them into the waiting hands of Israeli military transport. First by boats, and later as that became too risky after a few close calls, Hercules cargo planes landed in the dead of night deep in the desert. 

The sheer scope and danger of this operation boggles the mind. The Sudanese government was a declared enemy of Israel. If any of the Mossad agents had been discovered, they wouldn’t have even received a trial, they would have been hung in a public execution. Any boats or planes caught operating in the area would have brought down the full force of the Sudanese military. Wars have been started over much smaller intelligence operations.

But the agents stayed committed. To operate in one location for years at a time while knowing that a single slip – a staff member who sticks his head where it didn’t belong, an overheard conversation, a too curious tourist asking the wrong questions – could bring the entire thing down on their heads doesn’t take just courage, it takes a true belief in the value of that mission.

The Mossad agents involved knew exactly how bad things in Ethiopia were, how desperate the plight of Ethiopian Jews must have been to compel them to flee to Sudan, a state hostile to their very existence. They knew that those people deserved to live real lives, lives free to practice their beliefs, free from hunger, and war, and persecution. And they risked everything to make it happen for them.

Operation Brothers rescued more than 6000 Ethiopian Jews from starvation and death. It’s an accomplishment that should be remembered and admired by anyone who believes in the triumph of mercy and kindness over brutality and conflict. 
[Comment]

Are these sci-fi pods the future of transportation in Israeli cities? By: C4i

Netanya, 2020: It’s the morning rush hour and the city teems with life and motion. All around the city, children make their way to school, young professionals fight through café lines for their morning jolt of caffeine, and workers start their day. Above all the chaos, a series of sleek silver pods blow past the street vendors and cars below. Suspended on an intricate network of rails, the pods reach dizzying speeds, in excess of 300 km/h, shuttling people across the entire downtown core in mere seconds.

Sounds like some sci-fi mumbo jumbo doesn’t it? The kind of image you’d see depicted in water colours on the cover of some prog-rock album or in the pages of some retro-future comic. But it’s not. This is the future Netanya’s Local Planning and Building committee and their partners at SkyTran are working to make a reality.

skyTran Overview from skyTran on Vimeo.

 
SkyTran, a US based company from California, is no stranger to comparisons to sci-fi fantasy. Their ambitious vision for revolutionizing public transport has been dismissed before as wild-eyed dreaming, but they insist the tech behind their pods is solid. Building on research conducted by NASA, SkyTran marries proven mag-lev technology (the kind that powers Japan’s famous bullet trains) to a condensed form factor that can work inside a city. The idea is to solve a common public transportation problem – where do you put it?
 
Subways are massive, horrendously disruptive projects that are notoriously prone to setbacks and delays. Elevated trains are much the same, but with the added flaws of being noisy and rattling nearby windows all day. Busses can only carry so many and introduce yet more traffic to the roads.

SkyTran uses the one piece of unoccupied real estate in the modern city – the sky. By building rails overhead and using smooth, quiet, non-disruptive mag-lev vehicles, the goal is to introduce a public transportation system that is fast, safe, and non-disruptive to the community. 

Where SkyTran differs from other forms of public transit is that it favors speed over capacity. Most public conveyances are based on maximizing seats and the total carrying capacity per unit on a route. SkyTran instead only offers two people a ride at a time in a single pod. However, the pods are continuously arriving and departing, ensuring no long lines for a ride.

It’s an ambitious plan, and one that has its fair share of detractors, but the city council of Netanya believes in it. They are planning for a network of these pod rails that will operate between the Sapir railway station to the coastal highway Route 2, covering more than 600 meters of the most densely populated and trafficked area of the city.

The goal is to relieve traffic congestion that has plagued the city for years and cut down on emissions. This is something of a test bed for the SkyTran model. If it works and the pod based network relieves pressure on the roads and helps to combat the rising levels of pollution in the city, it can be expected that other cities in the area will also adopt the program. Tel Aviv and Herzliya have already been in talks with SkyTran. While all of this may seem a little far-fetched today, it may be totally normal in just a few years. 

This is a trend with Israeli cities. Combine this ambitious approach to public transport to other modern initiatives such as the nation’s massive investments in solar energy, cyber infrastructure, and world leading water desalination technology, and it becomes clear that the cities of Israel are not content to merely house treasures of the past, they also want to define the future.  
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