State of Israel – the country of juxtapositions. It’s overflowing with historical sites of important religious significance, yet it plays host to one of the most well-known gay pride celebrations in the world. The Red Sea, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea all touch its land, but deserts blanket well over half its surface. It’s home to the lowest point on Earth, The Dead Sea, that can be viewed from atop a mountainside fortress. Contemporary and ancient exist cohesively, each respecting the other. It’s small, roughly the size of the United States’ 5th smallest state, New Jersey, but within its borders, you can sunbathe, take a salty float, ski, hike, immerse yourself in history and well, just read on for more. We’ll tell you why this destination that may never have been on your family travel radar should actually top the list.

Leave a prayer or thought in the holiest of sites: The Western Wall

We can promise you, you won't find an experience like Jerusalem's Western Wall anywhere in the United States, or likely in any other country for that matter. Regardless of religious association, people come from all over the world to pray and experience the splendor, and some say mystical power, of the Western Wall at the Temple Mount. Adhering to the Orthodox tradition of gender segregation, men and women are separated by a metal mechitza (divider) in their worship, each having their own sections of the wall. That practice has predictably been a source of conflict in recent years, but no change has resulted. Witnessing the wide spectrum of people and the openness with which they pray and show their faith is something you won't forget in your lifetime, whether you identify as being religious or not.

Some believe this wall is a direct line to the big guy, so be sure to bring along paper and a pen. You can write prayers or thoughts on bits of paper and fold them to insert into the cracks in the wall. Twice a year, these written prayers are collected and buried in the cemetery at Mount of Olives, a mountain ridge adjacent to the Old City that's been used as a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years.

Good to know:

  • You'll also hear the Western Wall called the Wailing Wall, referring to the practice of Jews weeping over the destruction of the Temples, and Kotel, which literally means "wall".
  • This is the holiest site in which Jews are allowed to pray.
  • Women should be sure to have their shoulders and knees covered while visiting this religious site.

Online: thekotel.org/

photo: prayers captured at the Western Wall via Maria Chambers

Have you had the opportunity to visit Israel? We’d love to hear about your experience in the Comments below.

— Maria Chambers

This trip, including hotel stays, food and activities, was paid for by Israel’s Ministry of Travel.