Tel Aviv is ridiculously hot in the summer when its waters are warmest. Head for the mountains of Jerusalem come August, and you’ll breathe a breath of cool respite, as temperatures and, more importantly, humidity levels are significantly lower (it even has snow some winters).
Tel Aviv is as decadent as it can get, but nothing is sweeter than East Jerusalem’s classic Arabic sweet shops. Honey-dripped zalabieh (deep-fried, syrup-soaked pastries), fresh knafeh (cheese-based pastry made from the long “kadayif” noodles prominent in Arabic cuisine) or baklawa (layered nut cakes drenched in rose water or syrup) will give you the sugar rush of your life.
Overflowing with history, Jerusalem is a city of the ages, but it is also a living city, a microcosm of the region’s diversity. Home to Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, pious monks and political rabbis, you must visit Jerusalem, and not just Tel Aviv, to remember it’s not just beaches and startups here.
Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim (literally “hundred gates”) area is a world of its own. The spoken language is Yiddish, and large posters called pashkavilim bear the news or latest religious ruling in screaming headlines.
Don’t visit on Saturdays, but if you’re willing to abide by the strict dress code, it’s worth seeing how Israel’s most devout live, importing customs and styles reminiscent of the Europe the Jewish people used to call home.
Tel Aviv might be completely secular, but Jerusalem is holy to all three monotheistic faiths. The Temple Mount complex houses both the Dome of the Rock and the golden Al-Aqsa Mosque, holy to Islam, and the Western Wall, holy to Judaism, and it spans no less than one square kilometer (0.4 square miles). It’s a microcosm of monotheism throughout the ages, with different churches and denominations inhabiting its cloisters and abbeys, temples and mosques, so delve into its rich history.
Tel Aviv might be the cultural capital of Israel, but Jerusalem is its official one, and the same goes for the local film business. Though Israel has its own “Oscars” called the Ofir Prize, the top honor of local productions is winning the Jerusalem Film’s top award. The festival, Israel’s biggest international cinema event, always takes place in summer when it’s so hot even the snobbiest of Tel Aviv’s filmmakers will head up the mountain for a cool outdoor screening.
There is a saying that claims Judaism’s greatest contribution to humanity is the shabbath—the idea that every week ends with a weekend, a time to rest from work and reflect. Due to a high concentration of religiously observant Jews in Jerusalem, the city is especially peaceful on Saturdays, with little to no businesses open and almost no traffic in the streets. It’s a magical experience trying to walk around on foot and cutting yourself free of technology and money, even for a day.
While Tel Aviv is pronounced the same in every language, and will sometimes be called the White City or “the city that never sleeps,” Jerusalem has no less than 70 different names: Yerushalayim (Hebrew), Al-Quds (Arabic), and Jerusalem are the easy ones. But did you know that the city is also called “Zion,” “Shalem” or “City of David”? How about Aelia Capitolina—the way the Romans called it—or Bayt al-Maqdis, the way some Muslim texts refer to it, literally “the house of the holy (temple).”
The city is so special, so unique, and so historical that it can drive you mad—literally. Some people, especially those with a strong religious upbringing, get rubbed the wrong way by the city, and about 40 people a year suffer from “Jerusalem Syndrome”—a strange disorder that has people convinced they are either God or hearing God’s voice. So if you’re good enough to drive people to madness, you must be worth visiting.