February 24, 2018 -
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Jewish Learning

Tourism in Israel 

All tourists who visit Israel should include two activities on their must-do list: an archeological tour (usually in the Old City of Jerusalem) and an archeological dig.

After the establishment of the State of Israel, archaeological finds were closely tied to the hopes and aspirations of the Jewish state. The findings served as symbols of the long-lasting connection between Jews and their land. Although small in surface size, Israel is much larger if one measures its depth. Layers and layers of history have been revealed through archeological digs. Israel's archeology is dated from prehistory through three millennia. The ancient Land of Israel was a geographical bridge between the political and cultural centers of Mesopotamia and Egypt, and therefore a strategic area, which attracted rulers and empires throughout history.

Much can be learned about life in ancient times through archeology. The Israelite period is characterized by large findings of writings that indicate a broad distribution of knowledge among common people, a unique phenomenon in the ancient world. In addition, the rich and diverse archaeological finds attest to strong international links and trade relations.

The City of David is where the biblical King David established his kingdom, and where the history of the People of Israel was written. It is within walking distance of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall. In the year 1004 BCE, King David captured the city from the Jebusites and established his capital. He united the People of Israel and brought the Holy Ark to the city. His son, King Solomon, built the First Temple there.

Today the City of David is an archeological park that tells the story of the establishment of Jerusalem, its wars and hardships, its prophets and kings, and the history of the Jews during biblical times. The remains of the city are present in the ancient stones and the thousands of shards that cover the pathways between the buildings. Among the archeological ruins are large, elaborate houses that bear witness to the high social status of the city’s residents.  Among the ruins found in the city were personal seals for signing letters and documents bearing the names of their owners, people who were mentioned in the Bible.

Masada today is one of the Jewish world’s most powerful symbols. Israeli soldiers take an oath there: "Masada shall not fall again." Next to Jerusalem, it is the most popular destination of Jewish tourists visiting Israel. Many Bar and Bat Mitzvah services take place in the remains of the ancient synagogue in Masada.

In the year 70 AD, the Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem and the SecondTemple. The Zealots who survived the Great Revolt fled Jerusalem to Masada, where they held out for three years. In 72, the Roman legion surrounded them and made attempts to take over the mountain, using all weapons possible. Once it became apparent that the battering rams and catapults would soon succeed in breaching Masada's walls, Elazar ben Yair, the Zealots’ leader, decided that all the Jewish defenders should commit suicide. The alternative facing the Zealots was known to all: the men could expect to be sold off as slaves, the women as slaves and prostitutes. The information about the final hours of Masada comes from Flavius Josephus, who grew up as a Jew and became a Roman citizen. According to Josephus, two women and five children managed to hide themselves during the mass suicide, and it was from one of these women that he heard an account of Elazar ben Yair's final speech: "Let our wives die before they are abused, and our children before they have tasted of slavery, and after we have slain them, let us bestow that glorious benefit upon one another mutually." Elazar ordered that all the Jews' possessions except food be destroyed, for "[the food] will be a testimonial when we are dead that we were not subdued for want of necessities; but that, according to our original resolution, we have preferred death before slavery."

After this oration, the men killed their wives and children, and then each other. Almost a thousand men, women and children died that day.

Besides the City of David and Masada, Israel has many more sites, from north to south, east to west, which tell the story of three thousand years, multiple cultures, traditions and narratives. For more places to see and things to do in Israel, visit Go Israel.