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Jerusalem is a very popular attraction for tourists who want to explore the Holy Land and learn about Biblical sites and history- but it isn’t the only location in Israel with Biblical significance! In southern Israel, there are several locations where travelers will not only be awed by the region’s beauty, but also learn about life in cities and other locations mentioned in the Bible.

 

Three Biblical Sites to Explore in Southern Israel

Ashkelon
ashkelon traveler gate entrance travel

Middle Bronze Gate of Philistine Ashkelon
By Ian Scott [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr

This coastal city is one of the oldest known sea ports – its history dates back to the Bronze Age, some sources say. In biblical times, Ashkelon was one of the chief cities of the Philistines. They were: Ashkelon, Gath, Gaza and Ekmor. Askhelon was assigned to the tribe of Judah, and over the years, the city was captured and overtaken many times by different groups of people. As the city stands today, there are six national parks and forests nearby, and several other biblical sites to explore.
Be’er Sheva or Be’er Sheba
Tel Be'er Sheva, National Park, in NegevBy Dafna Tal [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr

Tel Be’er Sheva, National Park, in Negev
By Dafna Tal [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr

In the Bible, Be’er Sheva, which is also referred to as Be’er Sheba, was the symbol of the southern boundary of Israel. The Book of Genesis, chapters 21 and 25 first mention the location as the site of God’s revelations to the patriarchs. Southeast of Tel Aviv, this city is one of the largest in the Negev Desert. Tel Be’er Sheva is the archaeological site near the city that illustrates part of the city’s long and storied history. The sixth largest city in Israel, Be’er Sheva is home to Ben Gurion University. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, a large portion of Be’er Shea was excavated between 1969-1976, when remains of fortified towns from the early Israelite period and the period of Judah were uncovered. The oldest remains came from the 11th and 12th centuries B.C., and a 20-meter deep well that supplied fresh water to the settlement of the Israelites of the Tribe of Simon, as first noted in the Book of Joshua, Chapter 19.
Abraham’s Well/Mamre
Abraham's Well at Beersheba (Daniel Baránek)By seetheholyland [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr

Abraham’s Well at Beersheba (Daniel Baránek)
By seetheholyland [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr

Halfway between Hebron and Halhul is Mamre. It is there that the Bible says Abraham set up his tents, built an altar to pray and learned of Sarah’s pregnancy with Isaac. Mamre is also referred to as the Terebinths of Mamre the Amorite. Mamre was one of the chiefs who helped to save Lot after he was kidnapped. This biblical site had been closed to Jews from 1999 on, but in 2010, it was reopened to Jewish visitors.

With all there is to see and do in the modern cities of southern Israel and the historical sites to explore, it may be overwhelming to try and create an itinerary that includes everything you want to do during your visit to Israel. to find out how our expert travel agents can structure your trip to highlight the biblical sites of southern Israel.

For more biblical sites in Israel, click below to download our guide to select churches off the beaten trail.


gold rings ruby pearls diamonds lace

Gold rings with ruby and pearls

Israeli artists have long swept the globe with gorgeous designs and inspiring style, but few have reached the international prestige of the incredible Yvel Jewelry.

The Yvel Visitors Center which sits on the outskirts of Jerusalem provides insights into the rich history of the brand as well as their factory, showroom, and wine-tasting room. For an Israeli arts fix with an amazing amount of heart motivating their work, look no further than Yvel.

Israeli-born Orna Levy grew up in a Bukharian family of the jewelry business whose store was based out of the King David Hotel. As a young adult, she met her soon-husband Isaac Levy who was an immigrant from Argentina. Together, they decided to begin making and selling pearl necklaces which kicked off the incredible business venture of Yvel Jewelry (their last name spelled backwards!). The real spark behind this brand, though, is the amazing social work they do as part of their mission to bring good to their employees and clients.

Less known about Yvel than their incredible pearl work is their humanitarian efforts. Knowing the challenges of being an immigrant, Isaac and Orna created the Megemeria School of Jewelry and Art. The name Megemeria means Genesis in the Ethiopian language of Amharic. The school offers a learning program to 21 Ethiopian students over the age of 35 each year to learn jewelry design, setting, and manufacture. Additional classes are offered in Hebrew and math, and the school also provides monthly stipends and employment opportunities upon graduation. These are only a few of the incredible things Yvel offers its network of workers and students.

Today, Yvel is an internationally known jewelry design firm and manufacturer with over 100 artisans working behind their incredible creative force. Yvel Jewelry can be found in 650 high-end retail stores around the world. Tours of the Yvel Visitors Center offers travelers an inside look into the work Yvel does, including a film on the Megemeria school, a visit to the showroom, and an incredible wine tasting experience. Support Israeli businesses, and Yvel Jewelry  and their efforts to promote immigrant rights and relocation stability for Israel’s Ethiopian population by boosting tourism and taking a trip there!

Gil Travel offers a wide range of touring options and can customize your tour to include a visit to the Yvel Visitors Center just on the outskirts of Jerusalem!

New York Jewish Film Festival 2011 Q&A

Q&A after a film screening
By Wise Web Owl [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia

If you live in or near a major city in the United States, chances are you have access to a well-attended, high profile Jewish Film Festival.

As a major part of the Jewish Diaspora and identities of American Jewry, film festivals have grown to number over 100 across the country in the past few decades.

What makes these festivals so successful and sought after by Jews of a variety of backgrounds?

First of all, there are few things more American than Hollywood and cinema glamour; expressing  and consuming the richness of Jewish identity in this notorious American art form is a way to negotiate one’s Jewish roots and often conflicting contemporary American identity.

Second of all, film festivals are forums that offer a variety of expressions of identity for people of all interests, which reinforces the idea that Judaism is one aspect of a much larger picture when it comes to the whole person.

Third of all, the production of film allows us to physically and formally preserve Jewish identity while also challenging this identity to progress and reflect contemporary issues, needs, and interests of the current Jewish diasporic community.

Film festivals are one way American Jews manifest their desire to connect to their roots- which is exactly why film festivals are extremely relevant to Israeli travel.

As space separates the Jews of America physically across oceans and countries from the land of Israel, time separates the Jews of America from vital events informing 21st century Jewish identity- namely, the Holocaust and the War of Independence establishing the State of Israel. American Jews have compensated for that distance by contributing their own time and money to Israel through its vital tourism industry. This is a win-win for both American Jews as well as for Israel: American Jews return to Israel to find their roots and connect with their history, while Israeli tourism benefits from their financial and emotional support.

We cannot all make aliyaah…We can however, commit the time and money to spend as much time there as possible to support local businesses, preserve the historical culture of the country, and encourage the rest of the world to enjoy Israel as much as we Jews tend to.

This support is extremely vital to the reputation, persona, and public relations of Israel as it relates to the non-Jews of the world who perhaps have a different, or lesser, investment in Israel as a Jewish state. Engaging with Israel for personal benefits and growth is important in this time of fading religious and cultural identities, but it is even more important in the need for American Jews to support Israel as publicly and tangibly as possible. Adding to the fight to defend Israel verbally, intellectually, and emotionally is just one part of the equation; to make a difference on the ground in Israel it is key to put oneself on the ground and there is no better way to do that then through travel.

We cannot all make aliyaah, we cannot all move to Israel to permanently reclaim our connection to the Holy Land. We can however, commit the time and money to spend as much time there as possible to support local businesses, preserve the historical culture of the country, and encourage the rest of the world to enjoy Israel as much as we Jews tend to.

group massada sitting Jewish Heritage Family Tours

Overlooking the Ramon Crater
By Dafna Tal [CC BY-SA 2.0], via goisrael

In light of the recent conflict in Israel during the summer months of 2014, many prominent American Jewish scholars, intellectuals and spiritual leaders stood together in their stance that the absolute best way for Americans to show their support for their Israeli brothers and sisters is commit to traveling there, commit to visiting, and allow actions to speak louder than words.

As a travel agency serving the needs of the American Jewish travel community, Gil Travel is dedicated to this mission of supporting Israeli tourism, by promoting connection to Jewish history in the land of Israel. No matter what your interests, Gil Travel is here to provide you with comfortable, safe, and engaging travel through Israel and beyond.

In the meantime of waiting for your next trip to Israel to roll around though, do enjoy those film festivals and allow the cinematic line-up to open your diasporic heart to your Israel-root-connecting-journeys to come.

– Or better yet, check out some incredible international film festivals that take place in Israel each year!

Jerusalem Film Festival- started in 1994 by an Israel filmmaker and judge of the Cannes Film Festival who wanted Jerusalem to have its own cinematic prestige as a festival  host. JFF is held every summer and highlights many films that continue on with mainstream success.

Haifa Film Festival- first international film festival to occur in Israel. This festival takes place every year during the week- long festival of Sukkot in the gorgeous North of Israel, which gives access to incredible film to less populated Northern communities.

Tel Aviv Film Festival- the cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv hosts a variety of film festivals each year, including its main festival held each June. Highlights include student works and documentaries that push the edge of contemporary film both in form and in content.