Tell me about visiting Israel/Holyland and learning modern Hebrew (2 threads in 1)

We decided that our next family adventure, we’ll be heading to Israel (with hopefully a quick stop to see Petra too). I’ve got 11 months to get ready which will include learning some of the language(s?) before heading there. So what should I expect, what are must sees and what should be avoided?

Also, tell me about learning modern Hebrew. My SO and the kids are Jewish and they’ve been taking (or have taken) old school Hebrew which apparently is much different than modern. Their temple offers a mixed Hebrew class, meaning old and new, and I’m wondering if that might be a bit confusing as opposed to just modern Hebrew. Any recommend books/programs/audio for learning it? And any tricks for learning it?

One more thing, before I went to Egypt, I learned Egyptian Arabic, should I brush up on that or is there a different Arabic dialect spoken in the Holyland?

Most Israelis speak English, so there really isn’t a need to learn Hebrew, unless you really really want to. Being able to read it is handy, though, since signs are often only in Hebrew and it helps to know where you’re going.

I have studied modern Hebrew pretty extensively (its all rusty now, sigh) but it was in a formal classroom setting in college and then living in Israel. I personally don’t have a lot of faith in using tapes or programs without a teacher to learn a language, and Hebrew is not a particularly easy language to learn. (I’m usually pretty good at languages, but Hebrew is the only non-Indo-European language I’ve studied and I found it very, very difficult.)

Can’t answer the Arabic question, sorry.

As I’ve said here before, most Israelis think they speak excellent English, and many of them are right. Leaning Hebrew isn’t really neccessary; I’d say speaking Arabic would actually be more useful, as it’s much more likely that Arabs you meet won’t speak English. AFAIK, Palestinian Arabic is pretty much identical to Egyptian Arabic; Arabs watch TV from all over the region, and are exposed to a variety of accents and local dialects.

All highway signs are trilingual (Hebrew, English and Arabic) as are most street signs, at least in major cities. Many shop signs are in English only.

Incidentally, ancient Hebrew is pretty much identical to modern Hebrew, although the vocabulary is smaller and the grammar is more formal and old-fashioned. It’s a lot like the difference between spoken American English and the King James Bible - grammaticaly identical, stylistically different

It’s been a long time since I was in Israel, but unless things have changed, bus signs are all in Hebrew. If you want to take the bus and can’t read Hebrew, you’re gonna have some problems. (Although you can always ask someone for help, of course.)

Tel Aviv and Jerusalem signs are in also in English. Haifa… it’s weird, seeing as I grew up there, but I honestly can’t remember. Maybe you’re right.

In Haifa they’ll be in Hebrew and Russian, unless they’re just in Russian :smiley:

When I was there, in 1980, I got by on my middle school French. A lot of signage was still in French!

I may be going to Israel in August (this is a non-negotiable date, it’s a trip planned by my school). I’m supposed to bid on 4 trips and am most interested in the trip planned to Israel (runners up include Spain, and various trips to Thailand).

Quick question-is running around the Golan Heights advisable? Because that is one of the planned activities. Another issue I have is that they’re planning to take a couple of local trains, but the State Department supposedly advises against this.

Anyone care to weigh in? If I’m just reading too much into State Department travel advisories, please let me know. I grew up travelling but it has taken the backseat since I went to college due to my academic schedule (college, law school) and now work. Business school is really my last chance for getting to see a bit of the world before I re-shackle myself to a desk (I’l going into corporate finance/investment banking…so I don’t anticipate traveling for a while after that), so I want to make the most of the next two years and challenge myself.

This is the itinerary:

Fly into Tel Aviv
Day 1: progress towards Galilee, Nazareth and Mount Tabor
Day 2: Golan Heights hiking
Day 3: Jordan River and Akko
Day 4: Caesarea to Jerusalem
Day 5: Jerusalem
Day 6: Jerusalem --> Dead Sea
Day 7: Masada --> Eilat
Day 8: Progress to Tel Aviv (desert stop with Bedouins)
Day 9: Jaffa
Day 19: Fly Back

I KNOW that when I lived in Haifa, they were only in Hebrew. I can visualize it really clearly. I really can’t remember how it was in Jerusalem, though. Huh. I spent much longer there than I did in Haifa, but I can’t remember.

anu, like I said, it was a long time ago, but I’ve hiked around the Golan Heights and it was fine. I doubt anything’s changed too much since then. There are land mines in the area, but they’re all fenced off with clear markings. No doubt you will have an experienced (and armed) guide to make sure you don’t get up to anything dangerous.

I know folks (Israeli’s) who routinely take trips to the Golan Heights for family picnics etc.

The Golan is always full of hikers, and is a truly beautiful area. Just remember that a minefield sign is *not *a recommendation.

Israeli trains are perfectly safe, if not always on time. Bear in mind that a large many of the passengers - most of them, on Sundays and Thursdays - are soldiers on leave, so don’t be surprised if you feel you’re the only person in the car not packing heat.

Looks like a decent tour. 10 days in Tel Aviv seems about right. :wink:

Based on my own experiences as an American in Israel, I would say that while most Israelis do speak English to a certain extent, it is still useful to be able to read Hebrew and know some key phrases, like “How much?” and “Where is the bathroom?” If your kids have taken any sort of Hebrew class, they probably know how to read. If they don’t know the useful phrases already, they could probably learn them with minimal coaching. If you have 11 months, you may as well try to learn some too. Even though Hebrew is quite different structurally from English, it is a lot more regular. Spelling is almost entirely phonetic.

When it comes to sight-seeing, what you should see depends on what you’re interested in. I’ll try to categorize:

Museums: First, Israel Museum in Jerusalem (including the Shrine of the Book, where they keep the Dead Sea Scrolls.) There’s a great museum in Tel Aviv called the Eretz Israel Museum, not to be confused with the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The Eretz Israel Museum has some great exhibits about Middle Eastern crafts, Israeli history, and archaeological excavations. There’s Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum. That is always a sobering trip to make, especially with children, but if they have any relatives who were Holocaust survivors/escapees/victims, it can be quite meaningful.

Nature: The two best places to hike are probably the Golan Heights and the Negev area around Eilat. The two places are completely different, but both beautiful. Make sure you go with an experienced guide, and make sure the guide has a map. While many trails are marked, it can still get confusing. As has been previously mentioned, the Golan heights has some left-over mine fields and you really don’t want to stumble into one by mistake. If you are into interesting geological formations, take a trip to Makhtesh Ramon. A good spot for kids is the Biblical Zoo, which has more than just biblical animals. If you like biking, there’s a trail you can take that completely surrounds the Sea of Galilee. There are also some boating/rafting places on the Jordan River, but depending on the time of year, the water may be really low. A good place for a beautiful nature walk with opportunities to dip your feet in water is Ein Gedi.

If you spend any amount of time outside, drink plenty of water and wear the strongest sunscreen you can find. The sun will be a lot stronger than you’re used to, and you really don’t want to get dehydrated on the side of a mountain, trust me.

beaches: I’ve been to Tel Aviv, Netanya, Herzeliya, Eilat and the Dead Sea. My favorite was by far Herzeliya, but it’s really hard to get to by public transportation. I was going there from Jerusalem, and it took 3 buses and about 3 hours each way. If you happen to be in Tel Aviv it’s much easier. You could just go to the beach in Tel Aviv, but at least the spot I was at wasn’t the greatest. My second favorite was Netanya. They also have a place where you can go horseback riding. The area around the bus station is kind of seedy, but the beach is nice. Eilat is great in some places and really seedy in others. You pretty much get what you pay for. Still, the beaches are nice and you’re near some great hiking spots. I remember one spot on a hike where we could see 4 countries: Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. I personally hate the Dead Sea, but even I think it would be a shame to not see it even once. It’s salty, slimy and smelly, but there’s nothing else like it in the world, and it is pretty cool how you float in the water because it’s so salty.

In Jerusalem, you MUST visit the Old City. Make sure you get to the Western Wall, and try and get a tour of the Southern Wall Excavations. If you really like Biblical history, take a tour of the City of David as well. I think the second most interesting place for Americans is actually Machane Yehuda- the open-air market. Its busiest time is Friday afternoons, so you probably do not want to go then. It gets incredibly crowded and overwhelming. Another major tourist spot is the pedestrian mall based around Ben Yehuda street. This book of walking tours is pretty good.

An often-overlooked town is Safed, the home of Jewish mysticism. Pretty, interesting, historical town. Be prepared for climbing up and down lots of stairs as it’s built in the side of a mountain. It has a well-known artists colony in the summer. Near the Sea of Galilee.

For beauty and history, go to Akko and Caesarea. I can’t say much cuz I’ve never been to either, but I’ve never heard anyone say their trip there was a waste of time.

If you’re there at the right time and have strong stomachs, you might want to attend the Samaritan Passover celebration.

Masada: Interesting if you like that period of history. If you decide to do the climb up the mountain make sure you start really early in the morning so you avoid the worst heat. If you don’t want to you can take the cable-car up.
This is just a brief summary of things to do in Israel. I certainly left many things out and didn’t do justice to the things I did mention. If you have any questions about what I put down here feel free to PM me!

Thanks Kyla, Alessan and trapezoidal jelly. The trip sounds amazing and I’m hoping I get picked!

Wow! Exactly! This is a lot of info and a perfect start.

How’s driving in Israel? Worth renting a car?

Driving’s OK. The freeway system is great, the highways are decent (although there isn’t always enough signage), the back roads are hit-or-miss. Get a map, and preferably some sort of GPS. Israeli drivers have a reputation for being a bit aggressive, but I think that gets exaggerated. Juts try to blend in. Oh, and if a traffic cop is flashing his lights, that doesn’t mean he’s pulling you over - they keep their lights on all the time.

Renting a car is a good idea. Remember, it’s a small country - you can get almost anywhere within a few hours drive, if you stay away from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem during rush hour.