Traveling to Israel and a Global Family

One of the questions I’ve been asked a number of times since deciding to travel to Israel during my time abroad is, of all the places, why Israel? The short answer is that for me, Israel represents a part of my family and heritage that I want to feel more connected to. Much of my mother’s family is Jewish, and a significant portion, including many family members I have never met, live in Israel. Being only a four hour plane ride away, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore that part of my identity and have fun visiting a new country!

A glimpse of the landscape between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea
A glimpse of the landscape between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea

Luckily, my family was kind enough to let us stay with them in Tel Aviv. I’m so grateful for their help with accommodation and activities, and my absolute lack of Hebrew skills and a phone plan could have made things much more challenging without them. However, clinging to WiFi and my Hebrew speaking cousins, Kristen and I were able to navigate without much issue.

One of our first stops was to Carmel Market where they sell all manner food and clothes in stalls along the street. I had never been to such a large open market, so I was thrilled by the colorful array of products and bustling shoppers.

A selection of spices for sale at Carmel Market, Tel Aviv, Israel
A selection of spices for sale at Carmel Market, Tel Aviv, Israel
A produce stall in Carmel Market, Tel Aviv, Israel
A produce stall in Carmel Market, Tel Aviv, Israel

A fun fact imparted by a tour guide, shopkeepers use red awnings to make the produce appear fresher, so it can be better to buy from stalls with white awnings. The red seems to be working though, as everything looked delicious to me!

Since we visited during Passover, most shops and restaurants were kosher and weren’t selling any breads for the first few days of our trip, to observe the holiday. However, this didn’t stop us from trying a variety of tasty dishes.

Knafeh from the Carmel Market
Knafeh from the Carmel Market

One way to work up an appetite for all of the yummy food was to spend a day swimming in the Dead Sea. Everyone says the salt content makes you feel light, but the reality felt far stranger than it sounds. I stood straight up in the water and could float without sinking! It was a truly unique sensation. The mud of the Dead Sea is also famous for its nourishing exfoliating properties, so we made sure to lather up and take a bottle back as a souvenir.

Enjoying the sun and a swim at the Dead Sea, Israel
Enjoying the sun and a swim at the Dead Sea, Israel
Jordan Keller and Kristen Huth raising the travel bar at the supposedly Lowest Bar in the World
Jordan Keller and Kristen Huth raising the bar at supposedly, The Lowest Bar in the World at the Dead Sea. Photo credit: Romi Bibi

The Dead Sea may be iconic, but no trip to Israel would be complete without visiting Jerusalem. For the sake of time, we primarily explored the Old City, but even in limiting ourselves to that, we could have easily spent another day or two there. Old City is packed full of significant historical sites and monuments, markets, and people from all over the world.

Just outside the walls of Old City, Jerusalem
Just outside the walls of Old City, Jerusalem

Another way we explored history, specifically that of Jaffa and Tel Aviv, was through a culinary tour. Hopping from one spot to the next, we experienced the evolution of cuisine in Israel from hummus to shawarma to ice cream. This was a fun, interactive way to learn about the history of the city. Here is a taste of what we tried:

Hummus and masabacha with pita and assorted sides
Hummus and masabacha with pita and assorted sides
Phyllo wrapped potatoes and cheese make a delicious savory pastry!
Phyllo wrapped potatoes and cheese make for a delicious savory pastry!
Malabi, a milk pudding with rose water, coconut, and peanuts
Malabi, a milk pudding with rose water, coconut, and peanuts

It was so fun trying out a bunch of foods which may be common among the local culinary tradition but were completely new to me. My personal connection to the place and the time I was able to spend with my family celebrating Passover, traveling to the Dead Sea, and living together enriched the trip to something beyond another just another travel experience. I definitely want to go back!

Jordan Keller