Every so often a book comes along that sets a new standard in the genre.

Seth Aronstam, graphic designer of the original Aish.com, has traveled the length and width of Israel taking photos of every major archeological, natural, and modern site. With advanced drone technology and endless patience, Seth has captured – often at sunrise – the mystical magic of the Holy Land.

Doron Kornbluth, author and tour guide extraordinaire, composed the inspiring text to accompany each photo.

The result is Inspirational Israel, a breathtaking 320-page book to grace any home or library.

Aish.com is privileged to reproduce a sampling.


Rujm el-Hijri

Sometimes thought of as Israel’s Stonehenge, ancient megalith Rujm el-Hijri may have been used for astronomy, agriculture – or burial of the dead.

Known in Hebrew as Gilgal Refa’im (“Wheel of Spirits”), it isn’t surprising that few people have heard of this 5,000-year-old archeological site in the Golan. After all, it doesn’t look like much when you approach it, we don’t really know what it was, and it is a little out-of-the-way.

Still, Rujm el-Hijri (“Stone Heap of the Wild Cat”) is fascinating. From above, it is clearly an ancient megalith consisting of over 40,000 basalt rocks (some weighing over five tons!) arranged in five major concentric circles. The outer one is 160 m (520 ft.) in diameter and 2.4 m (8 ft.) high. In the center is a burial mound 4.6 m (15 ft.) tall.

What was it for? Most archeologists believe that it was used as an ancient calendar of sorts, or for astronomical calculations. Another hypothesis suggests burial platforms for the birds to “dispose of” dead bodies – “sky burial.” The truth is that we really don’t know.

Furthermore, it must have taken an enormous amount of work to build this massive stone structure, especially before modern technology. Who built it? Why did they think it was so important to do so? And why here?

Perhaps most importantly, similar to modern crop circles and some other unique human creations, the only way to really appreciate the majestic design of Rujm el-Hijri is to see it from above – and who could have seen its uniqueness 5,000 years ago?

As with much in life, the questions are better than the answers.


The Banyas Waterfall

One of Israel’s most lush locations, with its trails, suspended bridge, vegetation (and water!), the Banyas Waterfall is a perennial favorite.


Machpelah Cave

The Machpelah Cave in Hebron is the world’s oldest continually used prayer structure, and (like the Western Wall) is a historic symbol of Israel.

The Cave of Machpelah (the “Double Cave”) is unique. The building we see above ground today is roughly two thousand years old. Ancient burial caves – even older – have been confirmed below, though they are permanently closed off to visitors.

The most famous “residents” of the Cave are Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah, all buried here roughly 3,700 years ago. Tradition has it that Adam and Eve lie here as well. Together, these are the four couples referred to in one of the Biblical names of the city, “Kiryat Arba,” the “Town of the Four.”

Of course, the town’s primary name is Hebron and the word Hebron itself is rooted in the Hebrew word chaver, friend, referring to its most famous resident, God’s “friend,” Abraham. The Arabs call it Al-Khalil, the friend, based on the same idea and likely modeled on the Hebrew term. Generation after generation, civilization after civilization, this site has been identified, protected, and visited, for almost 4,000 years…

Of course, the main reason people visit here is not history, per se. This is a place of prayer and has always been so: Before he scouted out the Land with Joshua and the other spies, Caleb came to pray here (Numbers 13:22) approximately 3,300 years ago. The word “Hebron” mentioned above also is related to the word chibur, connection.

In Hebron, we connect to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and to ourselves. Most importantly, we connect to God.


Givat Haturmusim

Every February, Israelis from all over the country travel to “Givat Haturmusim” (Lupine Hill) in the historic Elah Valley to enjoy the gorgeous wildflowers in bloom.


Qumran caves

Arguably one of the most important archeological discoveries ever, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found here in the Qumran caves, in 1946–7.

Believe it or not, 2,000 years ago the Jewish community was even more divided than it is today. In simple terms, there were four main groups:

  1. The Pharisees (Perushim) were the common people, loyal to the Written and Oral Torah. They followed the leadership of the Sages. Jews of today descend from this group.

  2. The Zealots rejected Rabbinic calls for moderation and fought to the end.

  3. The Sadducees (Tzedukim) were mostly the wealthy Priestly class, often Romanized. They rejected the Oral Law, clashed with the Sages, and disappeared from history after the Temple was destroyed.

  4. The Essenes were ascetics who often lived in strict, reclusive, communities in the desert, most likely including this one in Qumran…

As the story goes, a Bedouin shepherd was looking for a lost goat in the Qumran area in 1946 when he came upon the Dead Sea Scrolls in a cave. Eventually identified by Professor Eleazar Sukenik, over 900 manuscripts were discovered and they remain one of the most famous and studied archeological finds in history. The scrolls include most of the Books of the Bible and confirm the high level of precision with which they have been transmitted over the generations. In addition, the documents include non-Biblical Jewish works, and writings specific to the Qumran sect.

In some ways, the Essenes were like other Jews: they kept kosher and Shabbat, used the mikvah (often!) and studied Torah. Still, they were very different: they relinquished private property, ate communally, and repudiated worldly pleasures – they did not marry – and seemingly only men lived in Qumran. Predictably, the sect didn’t last very long.

What can we learn from all this? How can we improve the world for future generations? Let’s promote unity among Jews – and don’t forget to have children!


Nimrod’s Fortress

Built by Saladin’s son in 1229 CE to stop the Crusaders, Nimrod’s Fortress stands majestically above the Golan Heights and Hula Valley.


 

Jericho

Long ago, Greek historian Strabo described Jericho as “surrounded by a kind of mountainous country… it consists mostly of palm trees.” Surprisingly little has changed.

Jericho, the city of palm trees, is a city of beginnings. It is one of the oldest agricultural settlements in the world and claims to be the first inhabited city – ever. After forty years wandering in the Desert, it was the first town in the Land of Israel that the Israelites visited – and the first town conquered under Joshua. Many archeologists believe it had the first protective wall in the world. And, fast-forwarding to modern times, aside from Gaza, it was the first town that Israel “handed over” to the Palestinian Authority following the 1993 Oslo Accords.

What is perhaps most famous about Jericho is not its beginning, but its end: The Book of Joshua (chapter 6) describes how upon Divine command, with the Kohanim (priests) and holy Ark in the front, the Israelites circled the city once a day for six days and circled it seven times on the seventh day. They blew the shofar, and the walls of Jericho fell.

The symbolism of circling seven times to cause barriers to fall away is echoed in a number of Jewish practices. For example, on the first six days of the Sukkot festival, during morning prayers, participants walk a full circuit around a Torah scroll. On the seventh day, known as Hoshana Rabbah, congregants encircle the Torah seven times, again symbolically to remove any barrier that might exist between them and the Torah or its Divine Author. Similarly, under the chuppah (bridal canopy) there is a common custom for the bride to encircle the groom seven times immediately before the marriage ceremony in a symbolic expression of their will that there should be no barriers between the new couple. And in a similar vein, the dancing with the Torah on the Simchat Torah festival is organized as seven hakafot (circuits) representing the unhindered union between God and the Jewish people.


The Red Canyon

The Red Canyon – so called for the variety of red-tinged rocks found here.


 Sderot

Hmm… What should we install in the children’s park down the street? Swings? Slides? A sandbox?

In the western-Negev town of Sderot (and in other towns close to the Gaza border, known collectively as “the Gaza envelope”), some of the first things to be installed are reinforced concrete bomb shelters. Every park and bus stop has one. Every school and residential building has one. Sderot is sometimes referred to as “The Bomb Shelter Capital of the World.”

Unfortunately, the shelters are a necessity. The town lies one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the Gaza Strip, which, as of the current writing, is controlled by Hamas terrorists. Since 2000, Sderot has been on the receiving end of thousands of missiles from Gaza. Israel’s “Code Red” (Tzeva Adom) warning system gives residents less than 15 seconds to get to a safe room and even then, nothing is guaranteed. As if that were not enough, Hamas diverted tens of millions of dollars away from needed humanitarian assistance to construct secret attack tunnels – and has used them. The Sderot economy has suffered tremendously. Worse yet, studies have shown that 75% of Sderot children suffer from post-traumatic stress.

Created in 1951, the name Sderot implies tree-lined boulevards – a vision for the future. Sderot was envisioned to be a town of strength, hope, and beauty – despite the harsh desert climate. How did things work out? A large number of artists, musicians, singers, and poets have come from Sderot and refer to it as inspirational. When the missiles started falling, the town’s preeminent Jewish school, its yeshiva, fortified its roof, expanded its premises, and continued inspiring even more students – as well as many locals and visitors.

Considering the resilience and unity of her 25,000 residents, the name Sderot was certainly well-chosen.

Excerpted from Inspirational Israel