Healthy Israel

By | Category: Travel destinations
Mitzpe Hayamim

A cat enjoys the view from Mitzpe Hayamim

Lake Kinneret known as the Sea of Galilee is Israel’s largest fresh water reservoir and, according to Christian beliefs, is the place where Jesus lived, preached, and performed miracles.

On the mountainside of Rosh Pina, one of the first modern Jewish settlements dating back to 1882, the organic farm of Mitzpe Hayamim has now expanded to include an eco hotel and spa. The place works on the principal of trying to be as self sufficient as possible. Over 100 varieties of fruit and vegetables are grown on the farm and there is also a bakery and creamery where they produce their own cheese with milk from their 300 goats and sheep. On leaving, guests can stock up on the food eaten in their restaurants from their on-site shop. From here, 600 metres above sea level we could see in one direction Lake Kinneret, and in another the Golan Heights where there is the border between Israel and Syria.

The climate is conducive to growing olives, and dotted around the area are olive oil refineries. Many of the refineries can be visited, some more commercial than others, but all having a shop selling not only oil, but products made from it. This includes cosmetics and creams, which are pure and promise to cure a variety of ailments. At Rish Lakish in the village of Zippori, we met with Ayala Noymeir who is an international olive oil taster. She gave us some useful tips such as buying good quality olive oil in green bottles never clear or plastic. She advised us to never leave a bottle open, as air shouldn’t get to it. As a preventative, she suggested using wine stoppers. She also said that we should never leave a bottle near heat so never near a stove or in sunlight.

Grapes are also grown in the Upper Galilee. At Kfar Tikva, translated as the Village of Hope, they produce Tulip wines from a variety of grapes that have been handpicked from their vineyards on the nearby hills. What is so special about the village is that homes have been created for twenty-one adults with special needs some of whom are employed at the winery.

Safed, Israel synagogue

an ancient synagogue in Safed

Safed, the highest city in the area, dating back to biblical times, is the centre for Kabbalah, the mystic part of the Hebrew bible. Prominent Sephardic Jews came to Safed when they were chucked out of Spain in 1492, and the old town is awash with ancient synagogues, some still in use, that have been maintained, and can be visited. They are, however, hidden away behind shops or down narrow, winding cobbled streets. Awareness of the Kabbalah has become more prominent when it became an interest of the high profile singer Madonna who has visited the town. An International Centre for Tzfat Kabbalah (another spelling for Safed) has been established here where people from all religions and walks of life can come to learn about Jewish mysticism.

In the fifties and sixties, Safed became Israel’s art capital attracting leading artists from around the country. Today, it is still an artists’ colony with lots of art galleries selling predominately religious paintings and objects. Don’t let this put you off as among them are lots of very unique paintings and jewellery. One gallery we visited turned out to be a warren of rooms with a courtyard at its centre. Panoramic views extend on one side to the Lebanon, and on the other to the Sea of Galilee.

olive oil press

A Druze village olive oil press

Situated in the area where Jesus is supposed to have been born or at least grew up, Kfar Kedem not far from Nazareth, recreates day-to-day life as it would have been at that time. First we had to dress in the type of clothing that people wore at the time which included a white muslin turban. Then we were shown how milk was made into cheese, and how fresh olives were pressed. Guests can choose what experiences they would like which could include learning to shear sheep, spin wool and milk goats. Children will especially enjoy the mode of transport, which involves riding a donkey. There are even carrier pigeons to show us how messages were originally sent. Menachem Goldberg assured us that pigeon mail still works to this day. To really get into the spirit of a bygone era, it is also possible to stay overnight in their shepherd’s tent.

Lake Kinneret also known as the Sea of Galilee is Israel’s largest freshwater lake with its main source of water coming from the Jordan River. Jesus is associated with the area where his miracle of walking on the water took place. It was here on a hilltop overlooking the lake that he gave his famous Sermon on the Mount. A sixty-four kilometre hiking and biking trail for Christian pilgrims includes paths linking sites important to the lives of Jesus and his disciples.


different varieties of halva on sale

For anyone who uses spices and herbs for health reasons or for cooking, a stop at Beit Lehem Haglilit is a must. A large room is filled with a variety of mixtures, and dried fruits some that I recognised but many that I have never seen anywhere else. A family run business, they grow and mix their own potions. There was also a large display of different halva, the sesame based sweet that is eaten in many parts of the Middle East.

Breakfast in my experience in Israel is the best in the world. Although you are unlikely to get a fry-up the choice is so extensive in its variety of breads, salads, cheeses, and fruit as well as local dishes that it is always a dilemma to choose what to eat. International hotels also include items that cater to the expectations of the nationality of their guests.

A must on a visit to Israel is eating one of the national dishes of the Middle East which is cheap, and if fresh, delicious. Falafel, ground deep fried chickpea balls served in a pitta bread pocket with shredded fresh and pickled vegetables, with tahini, a thick paste made from ground sesame seeds, and offered with an optional spicy sauce.

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