After Bernie and Yonah Miriam Schulman’s wedding in 2004, the Baltimore couple took off for their dream honeymoon — in Israel.
“We couldn’t imagine being anywhere else,” Bernie says over a decade later. “And with the natural beauty, the feeling of being in a Jewish country with Hebrew all around us, and the people, too, the entire experience turned out to be even more amazing than we’d imagined. We couldn’t have planned it.”
The couple flew into Ben Gurion Airport, rented a car and took off, letting the trip evolve spontaneously. After three weeks, they’d floated in the Dead Sea, reached the peak of Masada at sunrise, communed with ibex at Ein Gedi, and much more.
Josh Tolub and Tabitha May-Tolub, who now live in the Boston area, took a similar newlywed journey in 1999, an adventure they can still enjoy thanks to the video camera they took with them. “We wanted to record everything we saw for my mother-in-law, who’d never been there,” says Josh.
The Tolubs’10-day honeymoon in Israel also served as an introduction to Jewish life. As an initially interfaith couple (Tabitha has long since converted to Judaism), they shared the transformative experience of enjoying the Jewish state together.
“It was a wonderful place for a honeymoon,” says Josh. “It was a true emotional high, going to the Kotel, walking around Ben Yehuda Street … and seeing it all through [Tabitha’s] eyes and the wonderful emotions of her first time in Israel.”
The Jewish state is a popular honeymoon destination for newlyweds from all over the world: Online honeymoon packages show myriad offerings, from back-to-nature backpacking tours to five-star opulence. There’s even a program resembling Birthright Israel for young adults: Recently, Honeymoon Israel (www.honeymoonisrael.org) began offering nine-day heavily subsidized pilot trips for newlyweds. Honeymoon Israel’s co-CEO, Avi Rubel, says it’s“an opportunity to take people out of their normal atmosphere and give them a Jewish experience.”
Opportunities abound to celebrate in Israel and unwind from the wedding hoopla. Here are some of the highpoints:
This ancient northern city is elevated enough to command majestic views in every direction: from the Golan to Lebanon, Tiberias and the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). For couples seeking to kick off their marriage on a spiritual high, Tsfat is home to the mystical Jewish tradition of Kabbalah.
Perched on the shores of Lake Kinneret, Tiberias gives honeymooners a chance to warm up nearly year-round, in sharp contrast to the bracing air of Tsfat a short ride to the north. Here one can enjoy water sports and a marina along the extensive waterfront, ancient architecture, historical and religious sites.
Standing in the ruins of the Hellenistic and Crusader periods when Caesarea was a port city might be the closest thing to time travel. Caesarea was named for Augustus Caesar and was a gift to him from King Herod, complete with a huge port and a thriving metropolis. In addition to a birds-eye view of 2,300 years of history, Caesarea also offers such modern attractions as golf courses, deep-sea diving, live music, an art museum, horse racing, and a large national park.
Israel National Trail
The Israel National Trail invites hikers to traverse the country from the Gulf of Aqaba in Eilat all the way to Dan, near the Lebanese border. The 620-mile trail cuts a scenic path through the country.
You don’t need to love wine to honeymoon in Zikhron Ya’akov, but it certainly helps. The grape-growing region at the tip of Mount Carmel was established in 1882 with the help of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, the Jewish philanthropist who supported many of Israel’s early communities. Visitors will find a town rich in history (during World War I it was home to the underground that helped the British defeat the occupying Turks), the Museum of the First Aliyah, quaint crafts shops and eateries, and some of the finest winery tours in Israel.
Tel Aviv is Israel’s economic, retail and cultural epicenter. Honeymooners will find theater, lively nightlife, crafts shows and art galleries, Bauhaus architecture, an outdoor shuk (market), and fine dining. The pristine Mediterranean beaches provide a dramatic contrast to the skyscrapers a short distance away. Nearby, Old Jaffa beckons to be explored.
Conquerors have fought and died for Jerusalem for thousands of years, but they never vanquished its eternal beauty and splendor. The Kotel (Western Wall) and its Old City neighborhood welcome some 10 million visitors a year. Other attractions include theater, music, synagogues and yeshivas, architectural tours, historical sites, a world-famous shuk, and countless ancient sites. One must-see: the Rakevet, a popular walking and cycling path through the German Colony that has risen from the wreckage of a deserted train track.
The lowest spot on earth, located roughly 1,300 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea is the world’s saltiest body of water. The salt has eased the pain of thousands who come annually to take in its healing properties. Couples can also wash away the stress of the wedding with therapeutic mud and other indulgences at nearby spas.
Lie on your back on a sleeping bag and see the entire Milky Way splayed across the night sky. This is the magic of the Ramon Crater at Mitzpe Ramon, where the absence of city lights means that stars are dazzlingly bright. If you don’t mind sleeping on mattresses alongside strangers, there are also Bedouin tents nearby to stay in at low cost. Mitzpe Ramon also offers jeep, bicycle and camel tours, rappelling, and historical sites.
Called the “window on the Red Sea,” Eilat is Israel’s premier resort town, with scuba diving and snorkeling (the coral reefs are gorgeous), water skiing, world-class bird-watching and boating. Also look for a busy port and underwater aquarium, along with land-based activities such as rappelling on steep cliffs, desert hikes and mountain biking.