Jewish history comes alive from Jerusalem to Galilee

Many American Jews, living in a Christian society, know the Holy Land best in terms of Jesus' life: born in Bethlehem, the man from Nazareth, the ministry in the Galilee and the crucifixion in Jerusalem, for example.

Or, living in these pluralistic, politically correct times, their image of the Old City of Jerusalem is dominated by the Muslim Dome of the Rock.

Israel, for its part, has determined to keep the Jewish state true to its description in the Book of Isaiah (56:7), "a house of prayer for all people."

It is important for Jews, however, to understand Israel's Jewish history, which is older and richer than that of either daughter religions.

Here is a list of some sites that visiting Jews should be sure to see in the Holy Land:


The focus of Jewish prayer is — literally — Jerusalem. Synagogues around the world are built to face in its direction and liturgy is laced with hope for its peace. Sites in the Old City, founded by King David nearly 3,000 years ago, include:

*The Western Wall (Kotel Ma-aravi in Hebrew), last vestige of the Great Temple.

The Temple originally was built by King Solomon on Mount Moriah (also called the Temple Mount) as a religious focal point. Ultimately, it was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70. The only part of the structure to survive was a small section of a wall now referred to as the Kotel, which was part of the retaining wall of what formed a plateau, on which the Temple stood.

For 2,000 years, it has served as the last remnant of the Jews' former glory and, as such, was a site for wailing over the plight of Jews suffering two millennia of persecution. With the recovery of control of that ground in 1967 in the Six Day War with Jordan, Jews dropped the "Wailing Wall" reference for the preferred Western Wall or Kotel.

A large model of the Second Temple can be viewed at the Holyland Hotel.

*Near the Kotel is the Jewish Quarter.

*Above the Kotel, on the Temple Mount, is the stone where Abraham bound Isaac.

*Mount Zion, where the tomb of King David sits.

*Mount of Olives, with a cemetery dating back thousands of years.

Sites in the new city include the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial; Mea Shearim, home to the Chassidim; Tombs of the Sanhedrin (the judges of ancient Israel's highest court); and Nebi Samuel, where the prophet Samuel is said to be buried.

Sites near Jerusalem include Jericho, where Joshua brought down the city's walls with the sounds of the shofar; Beit El, where Jacob dreamed about a ladder to heaven; Bethlehem, where King David was born; matriarch Rachel's tomb, and Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs, purchased by Abraham as a burial plot and now the site of the tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Leah, and Joseph.

The Galilee:

In the Galilee, or north, Mount Tabor is where the prophetess Deborah defeated idol-worshipping enemies; Kibbutz Beit Alpha has ruins of a 6th-century synagogue; and Safed offers 16th- century synagogues and rabbis' tombs.

Around the rest of the country, these are of special interest:

*Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs.

*Jaffa, where Noah settled after the Flood and from where Jonah fled before he was swallowed by "a great fish."

*Tel Aviv's Great Synagogue

*Dead Sea and Masada, the desert plateau-top fortress and site of the last stand of Jewish rebels against the Roman empire.

*Ashkelon, where Samson encountered Delilah.

*Valley of Elah, where David killed Goliath.

*Haifa, where the prophet Elijah lived in a cave 3,000 years ago.

*Modiin, headquarters of the revolt against the Syrian-Greek empire 2,200 years ago, celebrated on Chanukah.


*The Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum.

On display here are some of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. The complex is located near the Knesset, or parliament building, in Jerusalem.

*The Bible Lands Museum.

This a nondenominational international center opened last year between the Israel Museum and the Knesset. It focuses on the history of the Bible, with artifacts from the biblical age.

*Yad Vashem Museum and Memorial to the Holocaust.

This complex of buildings and outdoor displays is located next to the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. On the grounds, a grove of trees is dedicated to righteous gentiles — such as Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, posted in Budapest during World War II, and Senpo Sugihara, then Japanese consul in Kovno, Lithuania — who risked their lives to help victims of the Nazis.

*The Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem.

Stunning exhibits in modern mediums depict life in the city through the centuries. Located at the Jaffa Gate of the wall around the Old City of Jerusalem, it is housed in the Citadel built 2,000 years ago by Herod. The ruins there provide an outdoor theater area for a sound and light show that emphasizes the centrality of the city to three religions.

*Sataf, in the Judean Hills near Jerusalem.

This open-air, living museum maintained by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel offers a taste of life in biblical times with a demonstration of terrace farm irrigation and travel by donkey.

*Kfar Hashmonai in Modiin, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

This restored and working ancient village demonstrates life as it was at the time marked by the Jewish holiday of Chanukah, the 2nd century BCE revolt against the Syrian-Greek empire that controlled Judea. Most of the tools used were found at the site by restorers. English explanations are available, but must be arranged in advance.

*The Diaspora Museum.

Located on the grounds of Tel Aviv University, it displays depictions of the culture and customs of Jewish communities around the world. One exhibit features replicas of synagogues, including the 800-year-old Kai Feng Fu building in China and the synagogues of Vilnius and Warsaw, which were destroyed by the Nazis.

*Kibbutz Ayelet Hashachar.

This kibbutz, north of the Sea of Galilee, has constructed a model of an ancient village in a nearby wadi. Demonstrations are offered on how ancient people lived and used clay, wood, straw, and rope in everyday life. Visitors are invited to participate.