This past summer, I had an amazing opportunity to participate in an organization called Birthright Israel. The organization sends approximately 51,000 young Jews from over fifty countries to Israel to spend ten days travelling around the country learning about Israeli history and the Jewish religion. Each participant has the option of prolonging their trip if they wish. I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity but knew that with my student budget, every dollar would have to be stretched. I looked into several cheap options to travel around Israel after my ten day Birthright trip. I eventually came across and decided to join “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.”
WWOOF is an organization that links volunteers to work on farms. A year membership costs about $50, which allows the volunteer to work in a participating farm anywhere around the world. The WWOOFer is not paid to work on the farm but in return for volunteering, gets to stay and eat at the farm for free. I know several people who have WOOFed around the world and loved it, so I knew this would be the best option for me. But before getting more into WOOFing, I want to share my Birthright Israel experience.
The Israel Landscape
Israel has a multitude of unique landscapes. Hiking in the Golan Heights is a must! I went on a few hikes in Israel, but my two favorite were Mount Arbel and the Jilabun Canyon (which takes you right by a waterfall).
Haifa is a city located in northern Israel and is home to the main Bahai temple in the world. The Bahai Garden is a beautiful feature of Haifa rising up Mount Carmel. I recommend taking one of the free tours there. Walking through the German quarter gives a beautiful view of the Garden, which at night is lit up. Haifa has many beautiful scenic lookout points and religious and historical buildings.
The Judean Desert was breathtaking, a vast sea of sand as far out as the eye can see. Hearing the wind howling through the hills and gazing into a clear night sky full of stars was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Masada is found east of the Judean Desert. It is an old Jewish fortress located on the top of a plateau about 1300 feet high. Masada is known for being the location of the first Jewish-Roman war. Hiking up Masada is beautiful at sunrise! From the top of the ruins there is a breath-taking view overlooking the Dead Sea. I recommend taking the Roman ramp up and the snake path down early in the morning before it gets too hot.
Ramat HaNadiv Nature Park is located just north of Binyamina. This Park is the burial site of the famous Baron Rothschild. The memorial garden is approximately 17.5 acres of protected land with a number of trails, parks and gardens. When I went I spent two hours walking around the gardens and spent the rest of my afternoon with a Sheppard and his flock talking about his job.
Israel is the center of the Jewish religion as well as many important historic sites for other religions.
Tzfat is located in the northern region of Israel. It is known for being one of the most religious cities with a lot pertaining to Judaism. It is also a prime spot to buy chachkas (knickknacks). One important thing to remember is, when in Israel, BARGAIN BARGAIN BARGAIN!!! This goes especially if you are a tourist because vendors will try to overcharge you.
If I could go back to Israel, I would be sure to spend at least a month in Jerusalem. Before arriving into Jerusalem take a moment, go to Mount Scopus, and look down on Jerusalem, it is such a beautiful view.
What’s cool about Jerusalem is that it’s split into two sections: old city and new city. The old city is surrounded by 2000 year-old walls, which you can walk on top of and have a look between the two cities.
Within the old city, there are different quarters each pertaining to a different religious beliefs. There is the Muslim, Christian, Armenian and Jewish quarters. I stayed in old city in a place called the Heritage house. This is a free hostel for young Jews. It was such a welcoming environment and within a weekend, I made so many friends. If you decide you want to observe Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday), the heritage house will link you up to go to a family’s house for dinner. I went to the Macklace house with about seventy other people. We all crammed into their living room and ate a very traditional Jewish meal. It was all fantastic, and you could really feel the pride of Judaism.
There are hidden adventures all around the old city any day of the week at any time. You can wander the caves located underneath the old city, go to multiple museums, have a coffee at one of the cafes, etc. Jerusalem is a city with endless possibilities and adventure.
Right outside of the old city, is the City of David (the oldest settled neighbourhood in Jerusalem). It has a lot of archaeological importance to Israel and is a large tourist attraction. I recommend going to Ezekias’s tunnel. The tunnel takes thirty minutes to walk through and is extremely dark with water that goes up to your knees, so bring a flashlight and prepare to get wet.
The new city has a lot to offer as well and feels like a completely different place than the old city. The Machane Yehuda Market, Ben Yehuda and Nachlaot have a lot of shopping for different things such as for produce, clothes, souvenirs, and so much more. Saturday night when the Sabbath ends, it is an entirely different atmosphere. The streets are filled with people and music, and it is definetly the place to be in Jerusalem om this particular night during the week.
One of my most emotional experiences in Israel was going to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. I recommend spending an afternoon walking through the museum and depending on the day you go you might be able to hear a survivor speak.
Party and Adventure
If you want a place to party at night and lounge on the beach during the day, Tel Aviv is your place to go. I stayed in Hayarkin 48, a hostel located right by the beach. South of the beaches is Jaffa, an old area with lots of markets and old architecture. There are tons of clubs and fun events all around the city. One night, I went to the Nuit Blanch which is an event thats goes on all night with music and art all over the city. I spent the night dancing on the beach to live music and sleeping on the beach with hundreds of other people. It was such a fun night!
My last weekend, and probably my favourite weekend I had in Israel, was spent in Eilat. I stayed in the beautiful Corinne hostel. Watching sunrise and sunset near the lagoon on the water is a must! As the sun comes up over Jordan, you see the silhouettes of the mountains on the horizon. This is a truly breath taking sight.
Eilat offers many amazing opportunities like jeeping in the mountains and camel rides into the desert! I was able to snorkel with fish in the corals. Make sure you go to a free beach and bring a snorkel with you to save a few shekels.
I also took a day trip to Petra, one of the wonders of the world. A cheap way to make the trip is to go with a group. Also make sure to bargain with a taxi driver to take you to Petra; don’t pay the first discussed rate. If possible walk around Petra at different times of the day because the way sun hit’s the rocks at different points creating a different atmosphere.
WWOOFing in Israel
I am so happy I was able to WWOOF in Israel. I knew I would have fun doing it, but I didn’t expect gain so much from it.
I first woofed in Binyamina at The Solar Garden (Hagan Hasolari). This wasn’t your typical WOOFing farm. The Solar Garden was a place to educate people and promote awareness about living green-recycling and reusable energy. The garden features solar cubes, waterless toilet, grey water system, solar cookers, and much more. The people running the garden are a lot of fun, easily approachable, and very outgoing. On my last night with them, they took me to an acrobatic circus at a kibbutz and we danced late into the night.
My second WWOOFing experience was on a farm near to Netanya in Beit Yishak. It was such an amazing experience… ALOT of work but TONS of fun! At the farm, three paid workers from Thailand really made my time there awesome. It was a big farm with all organic products. I harvested corn, strawberries, cantaloupes, watermelons as well as planting and packaging them. Amir, the owner of the farm would go out of his way to make sure his workers were happy. We ate amazing meals and had tons of fun. One of my last days there, he took a few of us to Gesher Hassidim a park where the endangered soft shell turtle lives.
WWOOFing was great because it allowed me to stay in Israel longer than if I were to stay in a hostel. It gave me the opportunity to meet people and talk about places to visit. I was also invited to stay with family and friends of the people I met while WWOOFing.
Overall, my trip to Israel was one that will stay close to my heart forever. I made amazing friends from all over the world and got to experience a fun new adventurous way to travel on a budget.
This post comes from Nava Zarrabi Yan of Ontario, Canada.