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Israel welcomed a record-breaking 4.55 million foreign tourists in 2019, an 11% increase in one year.

For anyone who has visited Israel, it should come as no surprise. I’ve lived here for 20 years and can’t be objective, but I think by any objective measure, Israel really is an amazing tourist destination.

It’s a small country, which means time is not wasted traveling long distances between sites, but it also one of the most varied places I have ever seen. That’s true when it comes to its beautiful scenery, its very different urban landscapes and its diverse historical sites. Israel also has an amazing art, theater and music scene.

Its astounding variety of food and particularly Tel Aviv’s sophisticated restaurant scene have made it a magnet for foodies. I found it particularly interesting that Cleveland chef Doug Katz was inspired from a trip to Israel to open his new Zhug restaurant in Cleveland Heights.

It’s been reported that 59% of American Jews have never visited Israel. I would suggest you can’t really understand Israel or even what it means to be Jewish in 2020, without getting to know the country. Israel is the only place in the world where Jews constitute a majority. That’s not just a statistic. It goes to the very nature of the country.

Israel has a dual identity – as home to all of its citizens, both Jewish and Arab – and as the homeland of the Jewish people, whether they live in Beit Shean or Beachwood. Israel is not a foreign country for the Jewish tourist. It’s home.

It also happens to be where the entire Jewish – and Christian – story began, which can be incredibly powerful, even for the casual tourist. Whether Jews come to deepen their appreciation of their Jewish identity or simply to have a fantastic vacation, Israel has a tremendous amount to offer.

The country is getting a slew of coverage in American media as a recommended tourist destination. Last month, Forbes listed Tel Aviv as one of the top 50 tourist destinations in 2020. That’s nothing new. Tel Aviv has become a favorite for tourists from all over the world.

I work in Tel Aviv – albeit in an out-of-the-way neighborhood – but even there, I encountered a wayward family of Ukrainian tourists who were scouting out where to have lunch. I also had a chance meeting in line at a diner with an American. When I asked him where he was from, he said he was from Solon, Ohio.

Conde Nast Traveler just listed Israel’s Negev Desert as one of the seven reasons to visit the Middle East. Travel and Leisure magazine recommends the northern resort community of Caesarea, best known for the ancient Roman city there, which is now a national park. The magazine touted it as one of the best tourist spots this year “for its happy marriage of antiquity and modernity.”

When I think about it, the same can be said about Israel as a whole. Particularly for the first-time visitor, Israel is almost unmatched.

One final thing: Since I still consider myself a Clevelander, I was pleased to see that that Travel and Leisure also recommended the Great Lakes region of the United States, including notably Cleveland, for what it called “its thriving creative scene and revived waterfront.”


Cliff Savren is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Ra’anana, Israel. To read more of Savren’s columns, visit cjn.org/savren.

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