International air travel today, especially in the “post 9-11 world” can be frustrating, annoying and anxiety-provoking. Because of the extra costs of traveling to and from airports, navigating the heightened security protocols and even the discomfort while on a plane, people often need a vacation after their vacation or choose not to travel at all. The distance of the trip is directly proportional to the anxiety and frustration.

But talk to someone who traveled to Israel from North America before air travel was ubiquitous and you’ll find out what true inconvenience and hardship were. The trip by oceanliner from ports such as New York City, as late as the 1960s, took over 10 days. When the port of Haifa came into sight for the fatigued passengers, their joy knew no bounds. This was the standard method how most people arrived from abroad to the State of Israel during its early years.

The port of Haifa, the largest of Israel’s 3 commercial ports (the others being Ashdod and Eilat), processes over 29 million tons of cargo a year, welcomes 140,000 passengers, and is staffed by over 1,000 employees. That number jumps to 5,000 when cruise ships arrive.

Akko (Acre in English), a city 17 km (10 miles) north of Haifa, served as the Holy Land’s primary port until the 20th century. When silt made the docking of large ships impossible, an alternative site was sought. In 1902, Theodore Herzl virtually “prophesied” in his famous book Altneuland, about the development of the city of Haifa and the transformation of its bay into a major commercial port. In 1922, construction began.

The port of Haifa opened for business on the 27th of Tammuz (July 21) 1933. Whether arriving by boat or plane, there is an ancient custom to kiss the ground of the Holy Land of Israel. Maimonides (Laws of Kings 5:10) relates that the great sages would “kiss the borders of the land, kiss her stones and roll in her dust.” This custom serves as yet another profound reminder of the Jewish people’s special relationship with the Land of Israel.

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