Maricel Laxa-Pangilinan runs with her family in Israel, and discovers its hidden beauty
PHOTOGRAPHED BY MARICEL-LAXA PANGILINAN
We had gone to Israel primarily to run the Jerusalem Marathon as a family, but we made sure that the trip was not solely to run the race, but to also experience Israel for what it really is. Like so many people, we were hesitant to visit the Holy Land because of the many things presented by the media about the country which were taken out of context and many times, exaggerated.
Our own reservations in the past had prevented us from pursuing a trip to Israel. But our doubts and fears were put to rest when our dear family friend and Ambassador to Israel Effie Ben Matityau invited us to run the Jerusalem Marathon, as it was an offer that was hard to resist. The Israel Ministry of Tourism also had just set up their first office in Manila and they were eager to have people experience the country. At the same time, having ran many marathons around the world, we knew we could not say no to running the same path Jesus and his disciples walked!
My husband, Anthony, ran the full marathon distance of 42 kilometers. My daughter Ella ran with me on the 10-kilometer distance, while Solana, our six-year-old, ran the community race.
When we first arrived, a representative from the Israel Ministry of Tourism welcomed us at the airport and entrusted us to their best tour guide, Alli Abu Rabiah. Each day the four of us spent with Ali proved to be special because he made us feel like a local and talked about his country in the most passionate manner. Best of all, he was a daring tour guide who would help us cross the Palestinian border because he knew it meant a lot to us to visit the place where our Savior was born.
Exploring Tel Aviv
In Tel Aviv, we had the chance to see and explore the Jaffa Flea Market. We were told that some of the cheapest and most interesting products are found there. It was so lovely to see carpet makers working on their works of art by hand! Each of the stalls we visited had its own character.
Meanwhile, our visit to the Old City and Gan HaPisga (Peak Garden) allowed us to look out to the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Tel Aviv!
In addition, Jaffa is one of the most ancient port cities in the world_and it is still an active fishing port. It was where we came across the home of Simon the Tanner from the New Testament.
We made sure that we maximized the little time we had in Tel Aviv, so we hit one of the beaches there to grant Solana a chance to play in the sand, as well as enjoy the vast playground located in the vicinity of the Hulon Children’s Museum.
Another place we visited was the Open Doors Monument in Rishon Lezion Memorial Park. It is very special to me and my family because it commemorates our country’s strong bond with Israel when former President Manuel Quezon opened our country to fleeing Jewish refugees when no other country would take them. I felt proud as a Filipino, as well as a member of the Quezon family through my stepfather, Ben Quezon Avanceña— President Quezon’s grandson.
Jerusalem: The run and the discovery
The views going to Jerusalem were like a scene from the movies—with beautiful hills and nature sights. As soon as we settled in our hotel, we went right ahead to explore it.
We went to the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Western Wall (or Jerusalem Wailing Wall), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock, and the Tower of David Museum.
We finally did the Jerusalem Marathon, which proved to be one of the most challenging routes we have ever ran. However, it was also enjoyable. The people were fantastic in terms of cheering and making it a whole family affair. There was music, dancing, and lots of entertainment.
The very next day, we explored the town of Bethlehem. We saw for ourselves the very spot where Jesus was born. We also ate local food such as hummus, falafel, shawarma, and kebab at Abu Dawod Restaurant. Afterwards, we took a dip in the Dead Sea—capping off a wonderful day.
It is quite difficult to pinpoint what makes Israel special but being surrounded with the ancient and modern that seems to harmoniously blend with everything makes it truly a unique place to visit. One of the things that we really regret now is having stayed in Israel for just eight days because there was so much more we wanted to see. However, it gives us reason to come back soon!
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO TO ISRAEL
WHAT TO EXPECT
Valid Passport and Tourist Visas
There is no visa required for Philippine Passport holders up to 90 days of stay.
Shabbat is one of the most important holy days in Judaism. But for Jews, apart from the Day of Atonement, it is the holiest day and is the only one mentioned in the Ten Commandments.
Kosher is food prepared in accordance with Jewish Dietary Laws. In their most biblical form, Jewish Dietary Laws state that:
- Pork, rabbit, eagle, owl, catfish, sturgeon, any shellfish, insect, or reptiles are not kosher.
- Other species of meat and fowl must be slaughtered in a prescribed manner, for them to be considered kosher.
- Meat and dairy products may not be made or consumed together.
- Kosher food that is processed or cooked together with non-kosher food, or any derivative of a non-kosher food, becomes non-kosher.
- Places offering kosher food usually display
a Kashrut certificate granted to them by the local rabbinate.
WHAT TO BRING
There is no dress code in Israel and you can wear anything you like. However, when visiting religious areas and sites, women will need to carry a top or wear a scarf that covers arms up to the shoulders. You also need to wear a knee-length skirt or dress. For men, a sleeved shirt
Currency and Money Exchange
Israel’s currency is the new Israel shekel (NIS) or shekel. There are 100 agorot (agora in singular) in each shekel. Bank notes are in denominations of NIS20, 50, 100 and 200, while coins are in denominations of NIS1, 2, 5, and 10. Agorot are in denominations of 10 and 50.
Foreign currency of all kinds may be exchanged at the airport, banks, post offices, most hotels, or licensed exchange agencies in large cities. A passport is required when exchanging traveler’s checks.
ATMs are available outside most banks where you can withdraw local or foreign currency.
Purchases, Payments, and Tax Refund
The Value Added Tax in Israel is 17%. Goods worth more than $100 purchased within Israeli Shops (listed by Ministry of Tourism) are entitled to a refund at Ben Gurion Airport (TLV). To obtain a refund, the goods should be packed in a closed bag together with the special refund invoice and presented to the official at the airport’s MILGAM counter.
Food, drinks, or tobacco products are not eligible for refund.
Hello and goodbye. Shalom.
Thank you very much! Toda raba!
How much is this? Kama ze?
Can I please have the bill?
Ani yachol lekabel et haheshbon Bevakasha?
See you later/goodbye. Le’hitraot