Stephen Rubin

August in Israel is one of the lazier months during the calendar year. Mostly, you will find people sprawled across the beaches of Tel Aviv baking in the heavy humidity of the country’s coastal plain. This relative quiet in tourism across the country is a great opportunity to take advantage by exploring a number of unique sites across Jerusalem, especially within the area of East Jerusalem. For someone who wants to get away from the tourist crowds in Jerusalem, the eastern side of the city is definitely the place to hang out. We’re talking about a chunk of what used to be part of Jordan’s Hashemite Kingdom until it was captured by Israel in June 1967 during the Six Day War.  This part of Jerusalem also happens to have some of the finer culinary treats when it comes to local flavors and typical, regionally-influenced ‘market food’ – or as we call it here, ‘shuk/souq food’.


The eastern part of Jerusalem, particularly in the areas around the Old City, has maintained a timeless feeling of Middle Eastern authenticity mixed with pockets of stately, British undertones and uniquely Levantine, Ottoman influenced cultural and architectural relics.  East Jerusalem is definitely the best way to enjoy the path less frequented in Jerusalem and to feel like you’ve stepped back into a world of the oft-enchanting, romanticized view of the Middle East.

This is what you should do:

Start your morning by entering Jerusalem’s Old City through the Damascus Gate, the main thoroughfare leading into to the Old City (the majority of what we know as the ‘historical basin’ of Jerusalem) in what was previously Jordanian controlled territory. Once you are through the gate continue down just to the right and sit down at Cafe Rimon. No day in Jerusalem (or any day for that matter) can get properly started without a bit of people watching and a cup of coffee, tea, fresh mango juice or even some Arak from a distillery in Ramallah.

Fresh mango juice and beautiful women at Cafe Rimon, just inside Damascus Gate.
Taybeh Beer from Palestine. The finest in the Middle East


Get your caffeine, juice or alcohol fix before heading over to the Austrian Hospice for a beautiful view over the city. The hospice was built during the 1850s at a time when the European powers started to once again become a player in the holy land, after roughly 600 years of being ostracized and castigated from the region. The Crimean War brought about new allegiances between the Ottoman Empire and the European rulers and to show its appreciation in the fight against the Russian Empire, the Ottomans rewarded the European powers with a number of firmans and plots of land within Jerusalem and around Ottoman Palestine. Most of the development was used to promote Christian, faith-based tourism and to accommodate the waves of pilgrims coming from Europe. The Austrians built a beautiful hospice which today still offers lodging services as well as one of the best rooftops from which to view the entire Old City. Its 5.00 NIS entrance to the roof, which is a shame since up until a year ago, it used to be free; however, it is still worth the small fee.  Mark Twain even stayed here during his ventures across the Middle East. Maybe it was from this point that he looked down upon Jerusalem and described the city as the “knobbiest town in the world save for Constantinople“.

On the roof of the Austrian Hospice. Photo by The Culture Trip (http://www.theculturetrip.com)


Now its time to step into a frame that could be from an Indiana Jones movie or a chapter from a novel dealing with the search for ancient antiquities and the dark world surrounding these dealings. Head up the middle part of the Via Dolorosa and pop into the officially licensed shops of the Israel Antiquities Authority to see decades of antiquities purchases made by East Jerusalem dealers. You’ll find everything from pagan, Canaanite prayer items and Israelite daggers to beautifully crafted Roman-era jewelry and Crusader crosses that were found on door posts across the holy land.  You know you are in a quality place when the vendors don’t try and sell you what they are offering. Make sure not to miss the coins dating to the final days of Jewish control over Jerusalem during the days prior to the destruction of the Second Temple.  If you are an antiquities buff, make sure you have plenty of cash to spare.

Imagine courtesy of Fine Art
Imagine courtesy of Fine Art


Once you head up from the Via Dolorosa, head left down Khan a-Zeit St. in the direction of the Christian Quarter. Get lost in the Christian Quarter and pop into the different kiosks that pock the streets of the Latin and Greek Patriarchs.  The shelves are full of interesting alcoholic beverages that are hard to come by, specifically unique Arak options from the Palestinian areas of Beit Jala and Ramallah as well as some fine flavors of Ouzo from Greece. You’ll also find some unique Palestinian wines and other products produced in the West Bank and abroad.

Maria's Market on Greek Patriarch St. A fine selection of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean alcohols and goods
Maria’s Market on Greek Patriarch St. A fine selection of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean alcohols and goods


Now that you’ve walked a bit, its time for some hummus at Arafat. If you ask for hummus Arafat, you may not have any luck finding it since that is not the name. In fact, the place doesn’t have a name and the name Arafat is simply the name of its owner.  So you won’t see a sign marking your destination. The best way to get there is just to head to the main shuk that runs in from Jaffa Gate – David Street/Sholshelet St. (the Street of the Chain) and starting walking as far down as you can go. Once you hit the dead end, head to the left moving back to the Muslim Quarter and you’ll come across a hole in the wall. Up until a year ago, it literally was just a hole in the wall with a guy serving the best hummus in the country, but they’ve recently added a few tables. In the good ol’ days, you’d just grab some hummus and pita to go for 7.00 NIS together and perch yourself on a rooftop. Now you can sit!  Arafat’s hummus is the best in Jerusalem. Hummus varies depending which region of the country you are in, and for many, the Jerusalem style hummus with its lemony and sour tints are their favorite kind.

Hummus at Arafat


After hummus, its time to get on the move again.  Continue heading back to the Muslim Quarter and when you get to Khan a-Zeit St., continue heading back in the direction of Damascus Gate. Make a right on to A-Takiyya St. and prepare to be amazed at the classic Mamluke style architecture.  Most of the architecture on the Temple Mount and the Muslim Quarter is remnant from the Mamluke period in Israel when Central Asian, Muslim converts pushed out of Egypt and ran through the Middle East – rape, pillage and plunder. They left their architectural styles across Jerusalem and were responsible for creating the outline for what is today’s Muslim Quarter, laying the current foundations which support the current streets.  You’ll notice colorful stone blocks with half domes at the apex. Here you will see stalagmite structures coming down from the half domes – what we call mukharnas.  The story of the Mamlukes is one of the most fascinating in the history of the holy land, but the period is often overlooked when studying the history of the land.

Cotton Merchants Gate on the Temple Mount. Fine example of Mamluke era architecture
Cotton Merchants Gate on the Temple Mount. Fine example of Mamluke era architecture


Now it is time to head back out of Damascus Gate for Afternoon, High Tea at the American Colony Hotel. On your way out, stop at Nabil’s Bakery on the main drag just after the Austrian Hospice in the direction of the gate for some great pita to take with you for the evening and then make sure to head up Shaikh Raihan St. to a 300 year old Tehina Factory located in the back of a market with a brown door (sorry for the poor description – just ask people for the Tehina guy).

Tehina tap! 300 year old Tehina factory. The best in Israel
Tehina tap! 300 year old Tehina factory. The best in Israel


Located in the heart of contemporary East Jerusalem, the American Colony offers visitors the most impressive combination of British Mandate-period architecture with Ottoman styles. Its the perfect mixture of European and Ottoman influence.  Sitting in the American Colony brings back memories of days-gone-by when spooks and international people of mystery would sit at the swanky hotels of the 1920s plotting the next course of world history.  The American Colony still has that same aura and the afternoon tea offers some of the best scones in the country. The gardens are beautiful and its a great way to break away from the congestion of the Old City.  The hotel offers a great wine cellar and an afternoon bar that opens up at 17:00.

One of the many garden-patios at the American Colony Hotel, Sheikh Jarrah.


After you’ve relaxed over some tea and a drink, the best thing you can do is to stroll through the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Sheikh Jarrah was one of the neighborhoods and capitals of Arab intellectualism prior to the 1948 Israeli-Arab war. Today the area is primarily Arab with a small Jewish community. This has caused tensions as Israel continues to authorize new buildings for Jewish residents in the area. This would presumably become prime real estate in a future Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Walking through the neighborhood is a good way to see the complexity and sacrifices both Israelis and Palestinians will have to embark upon during a final status agreement. Weekly non-violent protests are common in the area as a means to confront Israel’s continued construction in the area (just stating the facts – speak to me for the full political discussion!)

Protests in Sheikh Jarrah. A contentious zone in Jerusalem
Protests in Sheikh Jarrah. A contentious zone in Jerusalem


This is just the tip of the iceberg about what to do in and around East Jerusalem and only a small sample of the wonderful culinary options. Stay tuned for part two…


Stephen Rubin

Apologies to all for the lack of posting! Since the end of January, my schedule has been completely packed, and it’s been impossible to even find a few minutes for the necessary office time.  Yesterday, my business parter and co-founder of “Finjan: Israel Unfiltered”, Ariel Lasman and myself – along with our good friend and Times of Israel journalist, Ilan Ben Zion, headed up north to dig deeper into the growing trend of distilling in the Western Galilee.  For some reason to which we still do not have an exact answer, there is a massive concentration of folks producing alcohol of different varieties up in the Western Galilee.  The area itself provides a model of coexistence between Israel’s myriad of cultures and the conclusion seems to be that alcohol production – and consumption – is the driving force behind this.  Obviously, this is the classic answer that the distillers are giving and the truth lies somewhere between this and the unique heterogeneous make-up of the area, but sometimes, when something works…it’s best not to question it.

So here is a look at our day.

We got an early start and were out of Tel Aviv by 06:30 heading up the coastal highway and then inland to Bir el-Muksar, a Bedouin village inland from the coast in the Lower Galilee.  This really had nothing to do with our plan, but as you’ll see from the photo…a company called Finjan (as we call ourselves) could not pass up the early-morning photo opp. with the world’s largest Finjan and bag of coffee.  Shfaram, across the highway from Bir el-Muksar is the headquarters of Nahle Coffee.
After a few solid photo shots and delicious pastries from the local bakery, we headed up to Beit Haemek kibbutz, just north of Kfar Yasif to Jullius Distillery to meet with Yuval ‘Joov’ Hargil, Israel’s first and only marketed distiller of Grappa – or as he prefers to call it – Eau de Vin. When you drink Joov’s product, you know you are sipping a bit of ingenuity.  The man is a magician, artist and scientist all together and his product will turn non-Grappa lovers into fans of the product.  This shouldn’t be a surprised considering the success he and his brothers have had in the culinary business (his brothers are the owners of the Minzar and Basta in Tel Aviv).  I am in by no means an expert in Grappa production, but I do know that my palette was never attuned to enjoying it – this changed everything.
IMG_7609  IMG_7610
After the visit with ‘Joov’, we headed up to Mi’elya, one of only two purely Christian villages in Israel.  With the dwindling number of Christians across the Middle East, its refreshing and inspiring to see such a successful community in Israel’s north that has been able to hang on to its traditions and familial life style despite the constant changes in the region.  We met with Wadia Hadid, one of two brothers, who owns Arak Masada, a fairly new Arak distillery that is producing some of the best anise-flavored spirits around. Their love for producing Arak ties into the upbringing and the generations-old tradition of Arak consumption amongst the local non-Muslim populations across Lebanon, Syria and Israel’s Western Galilee.  They’ve taken an old tradition and added a start-up flavor to the brand.  Today, Masada Arak is producing 3 different varieties of Arak, each suited to a different palette.
IMG_7617 IMG_7621  
We finished up the day (Day 1 at least) at the creme de la creme of the north – Savida – in Akko.  Savida features the best fish and seafood flavors around and is one of the only places where people will find a number of these different brands of alcohol featured in the restaurant.  Located in the city’s Turkish Bazaar, Savida is quaint and far away from the normal tourist traps in the city.  Chef Dan Smulovitz is not afraid to use bold and powerful flavors in the food and knows exactly how to cook the perfect piece of fish and how to turn an average, low cost fish into a delicacy.  Savida uses a wooden-coaled oven and is located in what used to be a bakery during the Ottoman period.
Day 2 is next Sunday….more to come    
Stephen Rubin

One of the wonderful things about Israel is that its trekking and hiking season is something that exists year round.  During the winter and early spring, we prefer to take advantage of the desert before the summer heat makes it unbearable, while spring and summer make a calling for us to head north towards the Golan Heights and Galilee regions.  So, we decided that it is essential to get a few more hikes in down south before making our way north. Last weekend, we were lucky enough to take a group of 40 trekkers deep into the depths of the central Negev in the area of Makhtesh Ramon and its endless terrain for hiking and exploration.

Ladder hopping in Wadi Ada

Friday’s hike at Nahal Ada – Wadi Ada– was relatively short as we did not want to tire anyone out too much before a full day of trekking on Saturday. The Ada Canyon provided us shade on a hot day and allowed the group to technically challenge themselves by scaling boulders and climbing up ladders as they made their way through the canyon.  Once you get out of the canyon, you are greeted by views of Wadi Paran which is the country’s longest dry river bed.  The Paran River is a seasonal stream that gets its water during the rainy season when it becomes inundated with massive flash floods.  The river starts flowing in the Sinai Peninsula and runs through Israel and dumps into the Jordanian side of the Arava Valley.  Seeing the stream from above may look like nothing more than a sandy river bed, but when it floods, the Wadi itself is definitely one of the more impressive phenomena in Israel.

The Ada Canyon

After getting to camp, the festivities began.  For many of our trekkers, it was their first time eating pita fresh off the sajj before enjoying two massive Poyke dinners.  Poyke is slow cooked in a huge cast-iron pot directly over the heated coals.  The key to a good poyke is just throwing anything in it that you can imagine. So in addition to the basics of veggies, barley and lentils, we added a ton of wine, spices and even some whiskey to top it off.  As a result, our goal of getting up and out before sunrise was a bit delayed due to the food coma from the previous night.

Making the way up Mount Saharonim

Even with a late start, the group got off to a fast start and we were able to fit everything in as planned.  The day’s trek started by climbing Mount Saharonim while continue through the Nekorot Horseshoe and onto the Ardon Riverbed.  The hike finished by climbing Givat Herut and catching some stunning views of Mount Ardon and the north-side of the Makhtesh. You cannot be in the Makhtesh without actually addressing what a Makhtesh is! We often refer to it as the Ramon Crater, but there is nothing crater-like about it – save for the concave appearance.  A Makhtesh is formed through thousands of years of water erosion after numerous oceanic periods and folding in the earth’s crust.  This phenomenon is unique to Israel and the Sinai Peninsula and thus the word Makhtesh has become an internationally recognized, geological term to describe this unique form of erosion.  To get a complete understanding, you have to see this video via the link:  http://stwww.weizmann.ac.il/g-earth/geo-israel/makteshim/flash/stages502.swf (provided by the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot).

Mount Saharonim captured by Alden Oreck

The areas through which were trekking were part of the ancient incense route used by the Nabateans to transport their perfumes towards the Mediterranean coast via the Arabian Peninsula to Petra and through the Negev.  They would use large caravans of camels to help transport their goods through the depths of the deep desert regions.  In the areas of Israel’s three major makhteshim, you can see archeological remains from these trade routes.  The incense route itself has been recognized as a UNESCO heritage site. Throughout the trip, a number of people from abroad kept telling us how they never would have discovered these areas on their own.  For non-native Hebrew speakers, hiking in Israel can be a daunting task due to the lack of updated and precise information about the trekking trails.  Israel sells itself as the Holy Land and has not done enough to promote its great outdoors – this is what we pride ourselves upon, the idea that we are at the forefront of opening up Israel’s rich, natural landscapes and amazing diversity in hiking.

View into Makhtesh Ramon by Jessica Lederman

The next major trek planned is at the end of February and will be to Nahal Talkid and Nahal Piran – we are headed to the Jordan Valley!

Stephen Rubin

Winter in Israel can present a number of difficulties when picking the right single-day trek.  With the sun setting before 5pm and the chance that rain will bring massive floods to some of the desert areas, its better to scout out regions that don’t require a long drive from any of the larger cities.  Since most of our trekkers depart from Tel Aviv, we prefer to keep Saturday hikes within an hour’s radius from the city; unless of course we decide to specifically go flood chasing – something that must be done with a smaller group.  Keeping this in mind, heading up to the Carmel for a hike that ascends through the Yagur River-gorge and finishing in the Druze town of Usifiye is the perfect way to enjoy a hike that is conducive the winter barriers while still allowing hikers to experience one of the area’s more technically challenging treks.

Endless terrain of Mediterranean thicket


After driving northeast through Wadi Milkh and heading north through Route 70 via Yokneam and Kiryat Tivon, there is a turn into Kibbutz Yagur.  From there, you can easily see the trail marked for the Israel National Trail and a red path through Nahal Yagur.  You will stay on the red trail for the entire way, all the way through to Usifiye.  The first part of the hike runs simultaneously on the Israel National Trail and the red-marked trail.  When the trail splits between the red trail and the Israel National Trail, make sure to continue your way through the red trail into Nahal Yagur itself.

Boulder hopping through the Yagur River-gorge


Nahal Yagur – the Yagur River-gorge – is one of the more beautiful hikes in the Carmel.  Water flows through the steam after the rains and drains at the base of the eastern Carmel towards the Kishon River.  A few days after the rains, the stream is already dry enough to hike up the massive limestone boulders.  The stones are still slippery, so be sure to wear proper trekking shoes that give solid support on the boulders.  Even during the summer, the area is covered by Mediterranean growth which creates a natural shade.  Throughout the hike. there are a number of boulders to be scaled; however, there are foot ladders in the rocks that can assist with the climb.  For most of the trail, until you get to the road connecting Usifye and Kibbutz Yagur, boulders are what you will encounter.  The trail isn’t very long – roughly 4 miles – but it takes a while due to the technical part of scaling the boulders and dealing with the slippery rocks.

Early morning view over the Jezreel Valley and Lower Galilee


After finishing the technical part of the hike, a relaxing pastoral path takes you up the eastern side of Usifiye.  The best thing to do is to leave another car at the Usifiye football stadium; from the end of the hike, its another 15 minute walk heading left at the first roundabout once you finish the trail.  If you get confused, just ask someone where the stadium is located.  The best way to finish any hike is with a culinary treat.  In Usifiye, you have a number of options for knafe, a Middle Eastern sweet with a cheese base.  Knafe Wabas is the best and is in the main part of town next to the Sonol gas station on the way to the neighboring Druze town of Daliyat el Carmel.  Again, anyone can point you in that direction.



Once you’ve indulged in knafe in Usifiye, you can drive through town and connect to Daliyat el Carmel and on to the Muhraka – the sanctuary of the burning! Literally, in Arabic, this is the translation.  The site is a Carmelite Monastery meant to commemorate the site where Elijah the Prophet defeated the Canaanite Prophets in their quest to determine whose deities were more powerful.  In this quest for proving in the faith of one god, a massive ball of fire struck down upon Elijah’s altar and the animals were sacrificed.  Unfortunately for the Canaanite gods, this was not the case.  Their punishment was death in the River of Kishon!  The monastery itself is quite humble and offers spectacular views over the entire north of Israel on a clear day – just go up to the roof and a map will tell you everything you are looking at.  On a picture-perfect day, you can even see the peaks of the Hermon Mountains.  Its best to take in the site at sunset.

yagur maslul map
Topographical map of the hike (Hebrew Version)


The hike is off the beaten path of the typical tourist sites promoted by Israel.  You will only find Israelis on the trail and its a great way to see sides of Israel that are less explored.


Stephen Rubin

Hiking in Israel can be a daunting venture for non-native Hebrew speakers.  There is a serious lack of information in anything but Hebrew and the little information available is either out-of-date, inaccurate or nondescript – usually, all of the above combined.  Israel has done a wonderful job at promoting the country’s primary attractions and basic hikes within the well-known national parks; however, for those looking beyond the basics, its easy to get stuck revisiting the same trails and attractions due to the lack of quality resources detailing all of the wonderful trekking options across the country.

Heading down via Ma’ale Eli into the Small Crater


Our goal (I am referring to Ariel Lasman, my good friend and business partner) is to give people the opportunity to escape the city and discover the endless natural beauty of Israel.  This was initiated by reaching out to the thousands of foreigners living in Israel – including students, diplomats, professionals and extended travelers.  What we discovered was that people were waiting for this exact initiative – someone to take the reins, coordinate the logistics and allow people to set off into nature, often exploring some of the more remote pastures of Israel’s great outdoors.  The best thing for the soul is to get out in nature, lose the signal on your phone and connect with yourself and others through beautiful vistas, steep descents and demanding ascents! Along with the sense of accomplishment, there is something very calming about getting outside of the city and meeting people from across the world who share the same interests.  We were amazed to find that even a lot of Israelis were interested in joining the crew – both as a way to expand their network and the fact that even for them, without the updated knowledge, it can be a bit of a headache to plan a hike that is both logistically feasible and away from the typical hiking destinations.

Southern Dead Sea in the distance and the mountains of Jordan


The first trek we decided to do was the Small Crater – or as we say in Hebrew – the Makhstesh Hakatan.  There are five of these craters in Israel; however, they are not actually craters.  Hence, the word Makhtesh has been internationally adopted as a way to describe this unique geological phenomenon created over millions of years through water erosion. All of the craters in Israel offer unique trekking options that are off the beaten path, and our goal is to expose everyone to the endless possibilities of hiking and exploration across all of Israel’s geographical regions.

Coffee Time...always required
Coffee Time…always required


We decided to start with this particular Negev desert hike,  which starts from the viewpoint over the Small Crater, due to the intermediate level of the trail itself.  Obviously, we know our own capabilities, but when taking a hiking group for the first time, its important to evaluate where everyone stands.  The difficult part of the hike is one of the most daring descents in Israel – Ma’ale Eli.  You must inch your way down the rocky descent as you switch back constantly between boulders and craggy cliffs.  This is challenging, yet at a slow pace, accomplishable.  Of course, the reward is always coffee, tea and biscuits at the bottom!  After that, we continued through the Makhtesh and finished at the Gate of Asmodeus, or in Hebrew, Sh’ar Ashmadai.  Ashmadai is the name for the king of all demons! The gate is an excellent place to talk about the journeys of the PALMACH – the elite strike force of Israel’s pre-state defense network – deep into the desert, and the legends they told while trying to keep warm around the fire during the colder months.  One of those legends has to do with King Solomon, the building of the Great Temple in Jerusalem and the demon king himself – Ashmadai/Asmodeus.

A little vino to celebrate the first trip!
A little vino to celebrate the first trip!


The hike incorporated beautiful views, a challenging descent, geological phenomena (including the beautiful colored-sands) and captivating historical narratives.  We finished with a glass of wine as the sun began to set over the heights of the Negev and then made our way back to Tel Aviv – arriving exactly on time at 7:30PM (19:30). The group included people from Spain, France, Canada, South Africa, United States, Colombia, the Philippines, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Andorra and of course, Israel.  12 countries amongst 36 people is remarkable, and everyone shared a common language – Nature.

Yoni on the descent!


For more information on the hike, please contact me and I will give you all the details so you can do it yourself or with some friends. Keep in mind, you will need multiple cars as to leave one car at the end of the trail.   The hike is 10KM starting from Mitzpe Hamakhstesh next to an IDF base and descends via Ma’ale Eli on the Israel National Trail (and a red marked trail simultaneously) and finishes through the Gate of Ashmadai – Sha’ar Ashmadai.


Here is a topographical map in Hebrew.

מכתש קטן

Stephen Rubin

Yesterday, as the Sukkot holiday was coming to end with people celebrating Simhat Torah across Israel, I had the rare opportunity to visit Armon Hanatziv – United Nations Government House in Jerusalem. 99.9% of the time, that implies going to the boardwalk next to the building itself and taking in the wonderful view of Jerusalem’s Old City and its surrounding valleys and neighborhoods, but this time, it actually meant getting a special tour of the UN’s headquarters for the Middle East, courtesy of Major Chris Hughes, the United States’ official representative to the UN in Jerusalem. More

Stephen Rubin

Yesterday, I was fortunate to receive a special tour of Tikun Olam in Biriya, Israel’s leading research facility for Medicinal Cannabis. Tikun Olam is aiming to develop their own unique strains that will be able to decrease the THC levels enough so that the psychological effects will be mitigated while still maintaining the strength of the medicinal properties found in the Cannabinoids.

The suffering people endure from chronic pains and non treatable diseases has reached new heights, and with its research in the field, Tikun Olam has the potential to revolutionize the medical field…and the world itself. This goes hand in hand with its name. In the Tanakh, we are taught to use every part of the plants we are afforded earth as a way to maximize their many properties.

At Tikun Olam, this is being done from many angles. Currently, there are 13,000 people in Israel being treated by Medicinal Cannabis under the auspices of Tikun Olam and at prices that are far more affordable than any other drug on the market that aims to treat these same problems. And even if an individual cannot afford the treatments available through Tikun Olam’s products, they will receive the treatment for free…the true meaning of Tikun Olam.

For more information and a deeper look into Tikun Olam’s leading research in the field, check them out here at http://www.tikun-olam.co.il/ or http://www.tikun-olam.com/

Stephen Rubin

I was lucky enough to be featured in an exclusive piece by journalist Ilan Ben Zion that delves into some of Israel’s lesser known archeological and historical gems, as well as the need to improve access for tourists to some of the more remote and attractive outdoor destinations.

Dens of Antiquity, Ilan’s latest feature was published in ‘Inside‘, a quarterly magazine published by the Jewish Exponent, Philadelphia’s leading Jewish news-outlet.

I am happy to be working with Ilan on a series of articles exploring some of these amazing yet less famous attractions.  Keep checking back to see the latest works!

Here is a short link to the article: http://bitly.com/1qSUVaZ

Follow Ilan on Twitter @IlanBenZion for a more nuanced cultural and historical look at Israel.

Stephen Rubin

 I am thrilled to have finally launched the new version of my site, The Real Rubin.  I guess you could say its more of an extended business card more than anything, but for anyone interested in exploring and visiting Israel, it’s definitely worth a peek.  You can get a real good sense of what we can do together when you visit Israel and the region – no matter what kind of traveller you are. And even if you never set foot in the Holy Land, you can peruse the site and find a number of bits that might strike your interest.  Or you may find absolutely nothing that will interest you at all!


Stephen Rubin

The early morning air was crisp with a calming scent, and as the sun settled over the basalt plateaus to the east, the residents of the Jewish village of Kantur took the time to enjoy the soothingly warm rays, which briefly overcame the bone-chilling winter winds being swept off the lake deep in the tranquil valley to the west.

A new load of flax had just been purchased from the Christian village of Bethesda on the northeast side of the lake’s shore, and the increasing demand for soft, pure-linen fabric ensured that the Jews of Kantur would be working steadily throughout the winter months, processing the raw flax into a dyed-white material that could then be turned into a handsome profit. More importantly, this lucrative textile would be used by the community itself as clothing for the High Holy Days and for wrapping the bodies of those whose lives would cease to exist over the coming year.

While the villagers of Kantur strode optimistically to their dyeing basins on the south side of the village, the thought of death could only have been connected to those who would eventually be buried in the pristinely engineered garments. Suddenly, the earth started to sadistically tremble beneath their feet with such wrath that even the fiercest believers began to question their faith in the almighty Elohim. Volcanic boulders hurtled down upon them from the elevated plateau, leaving them with no time to comprehend the fact that their own journey to the next world was only seconds away. Instead, the newly purchased flax would soon be used to cover their own lifeless bodies. More

Stephen Rubin

Banner Icon MIDDLE EAST HISTORY From unique Mamluk designs to the best hummus in the Old City, Stephen Rubin takes us on a tour of the area surrounding the iconic Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

There is nothing better than starting a day in Jerusalem at the Dome of the Rock  / Temple Mount / Al Aqsa Compound / Solomon’s Temple / al-Haram-ash-Sharif (Arabic) / Har Habayit (Hebrew) or whatever you want to call the disputed holy site and location where security-policy wonks would probably give favorable odds to anyone wanting to make a bet on where World War III will erupt.


Stephen Rubin

Here’s what you should do in Ramla:

Set aside about six to eight hours, which include multiple coffee stops and post hummus relaxation.

You can get a map with all places on interest on the city’s website:


Most of the sites in Ramla can be reached by walking from place to place.  If you decide to use public transportation or a cab, you will never be more than a few minutes away from your next destination.

Go on the website of the municipality (http://www.ramla.muni.il) to get updates about opening-closing times.  You will need to schedule your visit in advance for the following sites: Al-Omari Mosque, the White Mosque and White Tower, the Karaite Synagogue and the Franciscan Church of Joseph of Arimathea. More

Stephen Rubin

If you’ve been to Israel before, we know you’ve experienced religion and politics in Jerusalem, hangovers on the beach in Tel Aviv, floating while reading a newspaper on the Dead Sea and getting lost in the confusing cityscape of Haifa.

There’s also a good possibility you’ve enjoyed an afternoon of Protest Tourism – or Occupation Tourism, as uniquely coined by activists operating in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

So, at this point, we’re assuming your back for round 2, and eventually rounds 3,4,5 and 6! Your next trip is the perfect time for a stop in Ramla.

Located in the Ayalon valley on the way from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and resting between the Coastal Plain and Judean Lowlands, Ramla offers an excellent look at multicultural coexistence in a land wobbling on tightrope of ethnic, religious, and political enigmas. More

Stephen Rubin

It should come as no surprise that Israeli Defense Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak threw down a wild card and announced the end of his career in politics.

Although the decision countered a spike in his popularity after Israel’s recent operation against terror infrastructure in Gaza, it is only fitting that Barak, Israel’s most decorated soldier, would succeed at fooling election pundits, the media and the broader public sphere.  After all, this is the man who, throughout his time as a public servant, was viewed as both the savior and a complete failure to the Israeli peace camp, while being a frequent punching bag for both the dovish left and the more hardline right-wing parties.

Stephen Rubin

If you want to understand Israel, you must first understand its enigmatic people.  There is no better writer than Amos Oz to take you on this fascinating journey.

Israeli society is often prone to a manic state of mind that exists on a continuum of bewilderment, admiration and skepticism within the context of the State’s national interests as a member of the global community and the direction needed to ensure a prescription for maintaining a democratic homeland in which Jewish self-determination thrives albeit not at the expense of the country’s minority groups.

Every day, Israelis are bombarded with increasingly pessimistic headlines and troubling commentary regarding the nation’s international and domestic policies.

Stephen Rubin

When world leaders, policy experts, technology wonks and journalists gathered last year for the Israeli President’s Conference, the Arab Spring was in its infant stages and the European economic crisis was on the verge of becoming catastrophic.

China and Russia were flexing their muscles in the face of US hesitations over the Middle East, and Israel was facing an existential threat from the ayatollahs.

Leap forward a year, and Israel finds itself in an even more precarious situation. Think Iran, the Arab Spring and the stagnation of the peace process.

Stephen Rubin

Debates have been swirling in the media about undertones of racism in Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film ‘The Dictator’.  Is Baron Cohen mocking Arab and Muslim society or simply addressing the dirty politics that have gone into supporting and then toppling autocratic regimes across the Middle East?

Last night, after months of anticipation and a sickening overdose of YouTube clips and highly publicized, self-adoring interviews featuring Sacha Baron Cohen’s newest alter-ego, General Aladeen of Wadiya, I jumped on the fortunate invitation to see the British comedic idol’s latest film, ‘The Dictator’.  Not only was it a chance for a night of heavy and at times uncomfortable laughter, but also an opportunity to critique Baron Cohen’s performance in a scripted film instead of his typical mockumentary humorist style (i.e Borat and Bruno).

Stephen Rubin

It’s 8AM on Sunday morning, and another week in the congested streets and overflowing cafes of Tel Aviv has begun.

By midday, the beaches will be full of tourists, students and independently employed Tel Avivim who relish in the flexibility of being able to self-manage their own lives while taking in the hot Mediterranean sun and the sea’s glistening afternoon waters.

The city of Tel Aviv has come a long way since 1909 when the 66 founding families decided to push up north from Jaffa and replace the expansive sand dune-dominated topography with what would eventually become the fundamental trial of Jewish self-governance and contemporary Hebrew culture.

Stephen Rubin

06:00 Thursday the 12th of April 2012 will forever be remembered as Bashar al- Assad’s finest hour.

No matter what happens in the coming years or even the coming months, this early morning hour will represent the Syrian ruler’s gold medal for survival, deceit and victory.

For all the arguing about whether or not Assad will ultimately adopt former United Nations chief Kofi Annan’s cease-fire plan and its eventual protocol to foster reforms in Syria, Assad will be able to thumb his nose at the international community, proving to everyone that he can match and even supersede the ruthlessness of his father Hafez in quelling decent without ever having to worry about the slightest bit of foreign military intervention.

Stephen Rubin

This past Saturday night, Israeli and Palestinian representatives met in Amman, Jordan to begin the third round of exploratory talks in an attempt to reignite the crippled negotiations that have come to define the Middle East Peace Process.

Unfortunately, however, this diplomatic disguise will produce just another set of pessimistic headlines and banter of blame with each side accusing the other of an unwillingness to take the necessary measures that would lead to serious negotiations.

Palestinian officials will grumble about Israel’s failure to freeze construction in the settlements and East Jerusalem, while Israeli representatives will accuse the Palestinians of making haughty preconditions that will hurt Israel’s bargaining position during official talks.

Stephen Rubin

The deligitimization of Israel is being perpetuated by the Jewish state’s lack of a concrete plan to counter a new generation of anti-Israeli attitudes amongst both the American Jewish community and on college campuses.

With regards to college campuses, this is not an issue of bigoted anti-Semitism; rather, it is a combination of educated and intelligent young adults who have been easily and convincingly swayed by an overwhelmingly powerful Palestinian narrative.

Stephen Rubin

When people used to refer to the Israeli-controlled West Bank as the Wild West Bank, there was only one connotation: Palestinian terrorism.  Now, the term has taken on a completely different meaning.

Israel’s troubling double standard of law enforcement and the maintaining of democratic justice in the disputed West Bank Palestinian territories cannot be more grotesquely apparent as the aftermath of this past month’s violent anarchy by Jewish zealots continues to unfold.

Stephen Rubin

Jordan Op-Ed: Abdullah’s Vindication

This past February, as revolutions were gaining fervor across the Arab world, Jordan’s King Abdullah II released his memoirs – something usually reserved for the latter part of one’s life.

It seemed eerily ironic and blindly premature for an Arab leader, especially one still a year shy of his fiftieth birthday, to be publishing such a body of work at a time when gusting political winds were beginning to rewrite history and create even more unpredictability in a region where a single day’s events are enough to fill headlines for an entire year.