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Jerusalem, Israel is a holy place for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, with ancient and medieval ruins, and unique historical sites. But it’s also a living city of over a million. World Traveling Mom returned from a first visit with the scoop on memorable things to do with family in Jerusalem, Israel.
My husband and two college-aged children just returned from our first family visit to Jerusalem, Israel. In our 10-day visit, we were amazed by the wide variety of things to do, see, and eat. In fact, we can’t wait to return. Read on for more about our experience — and our top 5 things to do with family in Jerusalem.
1. Yad Vashem is among essential things to do with family in Jerusalem.
We visited Jerusalem’s emotionally challenging Holocaust memorial and museum, Yad Vashem, beginning with the Holocaust memorials located outside the museum. The several memorials do not teach facts about the Holocaust. Instead, each memorial is an artistic tribute to people murdered by Nazis.
We were moved by the powerful memorial honoring the children the Nazis murdered. Giant photographs of children’s faces reminded us of individuals. But the memorial also included a darkened room, resembling a starry night sky filled with flickering candles. While looking at the constellation of candles, an unseen voice listed names and home countries of individual children.
Even before visiting, I knew I wanted to see the Holocaust memorial honoring the Righteous Among Nations. These individuals courageously saved people from being murdered by Nazis. Such as the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. To honor each, Yad Vashem planted a tree or created a plaque.
Inside the Yad Vashem Museum
After my family explored the outside memorials, we went inside the Yad Vashem Museum. The museum uses photographs, video, written explanations, and artifacts, like diaries, Nazi propaganda posters, stolen silver, and paintings. It teaches how Nazis seized power, how Jews resisted, and how 6 million Jews were killed.
Videos of survivors telling their own stories were heartbreaking. The tribute to the Yiddish and Eastern European culture the Nazis destroyed, a video mash-up of home movies, newsreels, and Yiddish movies most moved my husband.
Leaving the museum, I was struck by what people chose to keep to the last. Often, bodies were found with pockets filled with photographs of loved ones. Sometimes they were formal posed photos. But some were candid photos of swimming, hiking, or picnicking. Ordinary happy times with family and friends.
We spent three hours at Yad Vashem. It is a don’t miss experience, among the most emotionally powerful things to do with the family in Jerusalem.
2. Dinner with locals is among things to do with family in Jerusalem
While not Jewish, my family wanted to experience a traditional Friday evening religious meal, a Shabbat dinner. Our travel agent (Lisa Ratner, [email protected]) arranged a Shabbat dinner with a local Jerusalem family. She scheduled dinner through Shabbat of a Lifetime.
Local families host Shabbat dinner in their homes for Jewish and non-Jewish visitors to Jerusalem. At a pre-arranged time, we met our host on a street corner. Several other families joined us, a happy surprise Together, we walked to our host’s apartment and enjoyed a several course meal.
While we were novices, our hosts explained parts of the traditional meal, such as blessing the wine, uncovering the challah bread, and singing prayers. Shabbat dinner in a private home is a don’t miss experience in Jerusalem.
3. Fun things to do with family in Jerusalem – Sound and Light Show
As a kid, I loved the nighttime sound and light shows. But I was worried this way of bringing an ancient Jerusalem building to life might bore my college-age kids. I shouldn’t have worried. The Night Spectacular at the Tower of David Museum is one of the fun things to do with family in Jerusalem.
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Beginning at 9 p.m., the outdoor show projects beautiful moving images on the walls of the ancient Tower of David. The creative images showed Jerusalem history from 3000 B.C. to the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel.
TravelingMom Tip: If you go to Jerusalem in the winter like we did, dress warmly.
4. Outdoor markets are fun things to do with family in Jerusalem
We visited both the lively corridors of the main Jerusalem market and the Muslim Quarter market located inside the Old City walls.
At the Muslim Quarter market, we saw an individual stall selling all of the following: scarves, jewelry, metalwork, yarmulkes, Santas, T-shirts with pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian slogans. I loved the colors of the market and the fragrance of incense.
TravelingMom Tip: We felt comfortable visiting the Muslim Quarter market only because we were with a guide.
At the equally colorful Mahane Yehuda Market, the main event is food. In addition to stands selling fruits, meats, flowers, and desserts like halva, babka, and baklava, we saw lots of casual restaurants.
TravelingMom Tip: If you visit on Friday, expect crowds and shops closing by 2:00 pm to prepare for Shabbat dinner.
5. Things to do with family in Jerusalem: the Western Wall
On the day we visited the Western Wall, we saw several families celebrating bar mitzvahs and a crowd praying at the Wall. In other words, we saw current believers. That’s a huge difference between visiting ruins of an Ancient Greek, Roman, or Mayan temple and visiting the similarly ancient ruins of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
Dozens of rows of believers gathered at the Western Wall, chanting and praying for rain to end the Israeli drought. We even heard their prayers while touring the underground tunnels beneath the Western Wall. Exploring the Western Wall both above-ground and below ground is among don’t miss things to do with the family in Jerusalem.
Where to stay in Jerusalem
My husband and I love boutique hotels within walking distance of shops and attractions. We enjoyed the traditional Israeli breakfast of fresh grilled vegetables, fresh fruits, hummus, breads, cheese, yogurt, and other deliciousness. If that appeals to you, staying at Harmony Hotel is among the things to do with the family in Jerusalem.
For more family experiences in Jerusalem, click here.
Have you thought of visiting Jerusalem, Israel? Tell us about it in the comments.