FACT: Israel has been the center of Judaism and Jewish culture for more than 3,000 years. In fact, the Land of Israel was called “Judea” for 1,000 years until the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE and renamed the area “Palestine” after the ancient Philistines (a people from the northern Mediterranean). Moreover, Jew shave maintained a continuous presence in the Land of Israel for more than 3,000 years.
All four of the Jewish people’s holiest cities are in Israel:
- Jerusalem, located in the Judean Hills, has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years. For the 1,000 years before the Romans expelled most Jews from the land in 70 CE, Jews from around Israel would partake in a pilgrimage to the holy city three times per year. During that time and through today, Jerusalem has been the center of Judaism. Jews around the world pray facing Jerusalem every day; Jerusalem holds the holiest site for the Jewish people (the Temple Mount); Jews break a glass at their wedding to remember the destruction of the holy temples in Jerusalem; and Jerusalem holds the holiest, oldest, and largest cemetery for the Jewish people.
- Hebron, also located in the Judean Hills, is the oldest Jewish holy city in the world and is home to the Tomb of the Jewish Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Jews had continuously lived in Hebron for nearly 4,000 years until the Palestinian-Arab leader Hajj Amin al-Husseini led a massacre of the Jews of Hebron in 1929. However, when Israel gained control of Hebron in 1967, it established a small Jewish community in the holy city.
- Tiberias, located in northern Israel, is the burial place of many iconic Jewish sages from the past 2,000 years. Furthermore, Jewish rabbis finished the Mishnah (a holy book of Jewish stories) in this city roughly 2,000 years ago. Jews from around the world visit Tiberias to see the millennia of Jewish history in the city.
- Tzfat, also located in northern Israel, is the center of Jewish mysticism. Jews from around the world travel to Tzfat to study the ancient Jewish tradition.