(Photos courtesy Tiberias Municipality)

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Like most of Israel, the northern, mid-sized Israeli city of Tiberias, with a population of roughly 50,000, is a striking combination of the ancient and modern worlds.

One of the four holy cities according to Jewish tradition – together with Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed – Tiberias (T’veria, in Hebrew) is surrounded by natural beauty, including breathtaking mountains and rural scenery. It has been a popular tourist destination and spiritual center for more than 2,000 years.

Israel’s lowest city, it sits on the western shore of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) at 200 meters below sea level.

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“It was part of the land bequeathed to Naphtali (Joshua 19:35),” explains the Jewish Virtual Library website.

During the Second Temple period, the Sanhedrin (High Court of Israel in that era) relocated to Tiberias from nearby Sepphoris (Tzippori).

Two of the most important writings documenting rabbinic discussions since the time of the Second Temple were completed in Tiberias: the Mishnah, in 200 CE, and the Jerusalem Talmud in 400 CE.

The great Jewish sage Maimonides was buried there, and his tomb is located on Ben Zakkai Street, which is a short distance from the town center.

“The street’s namesake, Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai [one of the greatest heroes of the Jewish people], is also believed to be buried nearby,” the JVL site continues. “Yet another shrine is the Tomb of Rabbi Akiva,” one of the greatest scholars of the Mishnah.

Just outside of the city is the ancient town of Hammat, “which boasts the hottest mineral springs in Israel and has, not surprisingly, become a popular spa. The town also has a synagogue built in 341 [CE] that has a magnificent mosaic floor.”

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Tiberias, named in honor of Roman Emperor Tiberius, was established in 20 CE as a spa, and it developed around 17 natural mineral hot springs.

The modern city was founded under the British Mandate in 1922 and became part of independent Israel in 1948.

Today, “the Kinneret provides access to a wide range of water-related vacation adventures, as well as many pastoral beaches and leisure activities,” Nefesh b’Nefesh (NBN) points out. Rowing, for instance, is a favorite sport in that area.

“The local economy is predominantly dependent on the tourist industry,” NBN adds. “There are approximately 30 hotels and youth hostels,” which provide employment opportunities, as well as a local fishing industry and a number of nearby industrial parks.

“Tiberias is a thriving city offering a full range of restaurants, cafes, shopping centers, supermarkets and other businesses. The downtown area is home to a number of small ‘Mom and Pop’ stores, as well as large retail chains and upscale boutiques. A brand-new shopping mall opened, with a wide variety of stores and restaurants.”

(Photos courtesy Tiberias Municipality)

(Photos courtesy Tiberias Municipality)

Festivals include the annual Jacob’s Ladder Folk Music Festival and the Tiberias Marathon. The latter, hosted by the city for the past 30 years, is an annual road race along the Kinneret; approximately 1,000 competitors participate each year.

A cultural center hosts national theater and dance groups, films, a library and local events. The city boasts archaeological excavations and several fascinating museums, such as the Maimonides Heritage Center and Casa Dona Gracia, a hotel-museum telling the story of Gracia Mendes Nasi, one of the richest and most brilliant women of the 16th century who used her fortune and influence to save her Jewish brethren and to re-establish Jewish settlement in Tiberias.

The Kinneret is Israel’s major water reservoir. For several years, its diminishing water level was of major concern. Last year’s bountiful rain resulted in significant improvement, and with last week’s storm, the water level rose 10 more centimeters.

By: United with Israel Staff