Sunday 29 November 2009

Sha'ar HaGolan. A tale of the accidental archaeologists -

 When the members of Kibbutz Sha’ar HaGolan dug fishponds in their fields in 1943, they accidentally uncovered a major prehistoric site. Partially excavated from 1948 to 1962 by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the unique culture found there became known as the Yarmukian or Sha’ar HaGolan Culture. New excavations, since 1989, uncovered impressive remains of a neolithic village, dating back well over 5000 years. The village spreads over many acres and is located south of the Sea of Galilee, on the bank of the Yarmuk River which flows into the Jordan just south of the site. Several buildings were uncovered which would have had thatched and a range of vessels was found, including flat basalt slabs and concave basalt mortars for domestic use. At the centre of the village stood a very large, extremely well-constructed building, obviously serving some public functions. It seems that the village had a developed mixed-economy culture of fishing, hunting and grain-cultivating. Flint tools were widely used including sickle blades inserted into handles of bone or wood; arrowheads, polished axes, scrapers and awls. During this period, when pottery vessels first appeared in the Middle East, the potters of Sha’ar HaGolan produced a variety of sophisticated, well-fired vessels – round open shapes for bowls and closed forms for jars, many with flat bases on which they stood firmly. They seemed to be keen on fertility figurines too. 

The finds from the Neolithic village of Sha’ar HaGolan reveal a new, previously unknown culture in Israel. The previous view, that there were only nomadic hunter/gatherers in the land at this time, has been completely turned upside down. Visit Kibbutz Sha'ar HaGolan on Route 7589, just 2 km south of Lake Kinneret, where you turn east off Route 90. 

To view a Google map of this site, please click here.

How we lived then - Tzippori

Tzippori, or Sepphoris, is located in the central Galilee and is absolutely a 'must see' site. It first appears in the time of the despotic Hasmonean king Alexander Yannai (103 - 76 BCE). After the death of Herod in 4 CE, the inhabitants revolted against Roman rule. Not surprisingly, the city was eventually captured and destroyed. Following this, Herod Antipas, ruler of the Galilee region, set about restoring Tzippori. He spared no expense on restoring and beautifying the city, prompting the Jewish historian Josephus to later call it the "glory of the entire Galilee." Tzippori later gained additional fame when Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi moved to the city with the Sanhedrin, making it the seat of Jewish religious authority. Rabbi Yehudah completed the codification of the Oral Law into the Mishnah in Tzippori in about the year 200CE and the scholars living in the city participated in the writing of the Jerusalem Talmud. Under Crusader and Muslim control Tzippori lost its position of importance. However, its treasures were safely hidden beneath the rubble of the centuries for us to enjoy today. Tzippori is an 'archaeological wonderland'. The main excavations include a 4,500 seat Roman theatre with a spectacular view of the valley below, the Crusader fortress at the top of the hill and living quarters from Mishnaic and Talmudic times, almost all with individual mikva'ot. The most extraordinary aspect of the recent finds at Tzippori is the number and quality of mosaic floors.

Many Roman-period villas and public buildings (including a recently uncovered synagogue) feature these beautiful mosaic floors, some with clearly non Jewish themes! One villa in particular contains a mosaic of a woman's face that has been dubbed by some the "Mona Lisa of the Galilee", so great and intricate is the work. How the rabbinic leadership of the Sanhedrin accepted this clear violation of the Ten Commandments, we will probably never know!

Tzippori is a site not to be missed and you can reach it on Route 7926,from Routes 77 or 79, north west of Natzret Illit.

For Google map of this site, click here.

Kibbutz Gesher. One river, three bridges, many stories.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Jewish Colonisation Association bought 100 hectares of land in the Jordan valley, north of Bet Shean. It was their first purchase in the area and pioneers from Zichron Ya'akov started to live there in 1901. After several abortive attempts to settle the area, a group called Achdut, who had lived in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Bayit Vegan, agreed to start a kibbutz on the site, called Meshek Gesher
(Gesher Farm). They utilised the building materials from a Mameluke caravanserai ( way station), fortifying the dining hall with firing slits in the walls. Little did they know just how vital this precaution would be.
Gesher had for many centuries held a strategic position on the route over the Jordan. The first bridge was a Byzantine Roman Bridge, which had been renovated by the Crusaders and others. In 1905, the Turks built a railway bridge to take the line from Damascus. At the time, it was the lowest railway bridge in the world, at 247 metres below sea level. The third bridge was a road bridge, built by the British in 1925.
Before the Mandate ended, the British withdrew from the nearby police fort and a battalion of the Arab Legion, together with hundreds of armed Bedouins, attacked immediately During a lull in the battle, the settlers decided to evacuate all the children with one parent from each family - so that there would be no orphans. Two weeks later two Iraqi brigades, about 5000 soldiers, joined the attack. The Israelis, now reinforced by two ancient 65mm cannons, succeeded in repelling them all, for the loss of six souls.

You can visit the kibbutz visitor centre, learn more about its history and enjoy the beautiful Jordan Valley scenery by turning off Route 90, 16 km (10 miles) north of Bet Shean.

Ein Harod. Gideon's test, a kibbutz broigus and a children's zoo ..............

Some three thousand years ago Gideon the Judge tested his eager, but too numerous army at the Ein Harod brook in the Valley of Jezreel . You can read about it in the book of Judges, Chapter 7 . Near the spot, 35 young people from Gdud Ha'avoda raised their tents in 1921 and began resettling the land, building a new life at the Harod Spring, Ein Harod. By the time they moved to their permanent location at the foot of Kumi Hill in 1930, there were 239 members.
1953 the original kibbutz split into two distinct kibbutzim, over ideological differences (Ein Harod was not the only kibbutz to undergo this turmoil). Ein Harod Ichud the new kibbutz that resulted from the split is located just above Ein Harod Meuchad, at the top of the hill. The differences that once were the cause of fierce disagreements - causing members of the same family not so speak to one another - have long since disappeared. Today, both kibbutzim belong to the United Kibbutz Movement and are home to over 1000 people.

Attractions include an art museum, a petting zoo and 'reptile corner' (which may make some parents cringe). The art museum, with a recent extension designed by the architect of the Supreme Court Building in Jerusalem, Ada Carmi, is located a little further up the hill.
A trip to Ein Harod gives you a range of activities for all the family. You can reach it from Route 71, east of Afula, by turning left at Issachar Junction onto Route 717.

To view a Google map of this site, click here

Wednesday 25 November 2009

What's black and white and wet all over? The Sa'ar Waterfall

One of the many streams which flow from Mount Hermon is called Nahal Sa'ar. By our definitions , it hardly qualifies as a mighty waterway, as it is only about seven kilometres (less than five miles) long, before it joins Nahal Hermon at Banyas, but by Israeli standards, it is worthy of note. The Golan region is made up of basalt, black volcanic rock which was laid down at least five thousand years ago. Mount Hermon, however, is composed of limestone, evidence of ancient seabeds which disappeared long ago. Water always tries to find the easiest route and, as you can imagine, the junction between these two rock types gives it just the chance it needs. As the stream falls some 500 metres (over 1600 feet) in its short journey, the sight and sound of the waterfall in full spate is really quite impressive, in a modest sort of way. The local inhabitants made full use of the falls and the others in the area, as is clear from the remains of flour mills which can still be seen nearby.

As usual in this area, there is evidence of Crusader fortifications, which used the natural boundary of the stream and its 'mini gorge' to full advantage. The best time to see the falls is during the winter, late Spring and early Summer. It is a popular stopping point for groups and individuals and the twenty minute circular walk from the viewing platform is well worth the effort. The car park is located across the road from the falls and care should be taken in crossing, as drivers, Israelis and tourists alike, may be more interested in the view than in you! The waterfall is located on Route 99 east of Qiryat Shemona, very close to its junction with Route 999 at Si'on junction.

To view a Google map of this site, click here.

Take Route 66 and experience Armageddon - at Har Megiddo.

 People started to live at Megiddo over five thousand years ago and it is not hard to see why. Standing on a commanding position controlling a pass on the ancient trade route which connected Egypt to Mesopotamia, this ancient fortified town shows twenty levels of habitation! The site of the prophetess Deborah's victory over the Canaanites and Josiah's defeat by the Egyptians, it may well have only become an Israelite settlement at the time of King David. His son, Solomon, fortified it ( you can see the remains of the standard 'triple gate' of the time) and Ahab built massive stable blocks - not the 'Solomon's Stables' which almost every ancient site claims to have, and very few really did.

Your walk from the car park will bring you eventually to an observation platform and then to the 'temple square', but the most impressive site is the ancient water tunnel which, hidden from outside view, allowed the defenders to bring sweet water from the spring outside of the city walls during a siege. The inhabitants dug a shaft through the mound within which a staircase led to the tunnel, about seven metres long and three metres high. It was cut on a slope to allow the water to flow to a spot from which it could be drawn up. Ancient technology, nearly 3000 years old, at its best.

Megiddo Junction, Tzomet Megiddo, is at the crossing of Routes 65 and 66, 10 km west of Afula. The site is 2 km north of the junction on Route 66.

To view a Google map of this site, click here.

Avdat. Meet the mysterious Nabateans........

 Perhaps some of the best examples of making the best of the limited rainfall can be found
when visiting Avdat, an ancient settlement built by the Nabataeans, a people with a mysterious origin, who lived in the area in the Mishnaic and Byzantine periods and Ein Avdat. Probably the most impressive period of Negev history was during the time of Nabataean rule. This ingenious people controlled the caravan routes stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. They exported spices, the most desired commodity in the Roman world. By establishing caravan "way stations" spaced at exactly one days camel travel apart where water, food and other supplies were available, the Nabataeans established a network of bases that eventually developed into the very special "cities of the desert." In addition, utilising their intimate knowledge of the desert, the Nabataeans were able to harness winter floods and to harvest crops in a significant portion of the Negev.. The Nabataeans built dams in their fields to halt the treacherous 'flash floods', allowing the retained moisture to seep slowly through the heavy loess soil. They were expert farmers, whose meticulous stone clearing of their fields encouraged more efficient moisture penetration. We can still see the heaps of stones which they created. Some scholars believe that these heaps also served to support vines whilst the dew, which would form overnight in the cold air, would trickle through the heap and water the vines without rapid evaporation.

One of the best preserved examples of a Nabataean city is Avdat, named after a Nabataean king who ruled in the second half of the first century BCE (King Herod's time). The city dominates the plateau of the Negev Highlands (over 600 metres above sea level) and became a centre of commerce, culture and worship up until the Muslims conquered the Negev 700 years later. Avdat is well worth a visit and can be found on Route 40, just south of Sde Boker. Look out for the signposts near a petrol station.

For a Google map of this site, click here

Tuesday 24 November 2009

From here to Beer Sheva - Park Tel Dan

The largest of the three main tributaries of the River Jordan is the Dan River, flowing strongly through the northern border region of Israel, both ancient and modern. It is little wonder then that it became a tribal focal point for Shevet Dan when they were forced to migrate from the coastal. The tribe wrested the town of Laish from the Phoenicians and took over their cultic practices: you can read the story in Judges 18: 27-9. They diverted the streams into irrigation canals, but time and lush vegetation have made it difficult to distinguish between natural and man made watercourses now.

Once there was a working flour mill here, powered by the flow of the water and belonging to Abed - a- Salim of Shaba'a village north of the Park ( Shaba'a Farms is a politically sensitive site). Now the nature reserve has been reopened the mill has been restored, but it is just for show. Today the park is one of Israel's gems, with picnic sites, well marked paths and specimen trees identified for the curious - and everywhere the sight and sounds of bubbling streams of life giving (and very cold) water.

For the archaeologically minded, the park is also the site of Tel Dan, the site of a Northern Kingdom temple, where Jereboam erected a calf statue to discourage worshipers from travelling to Jerusalem. Thanks to the work of famous Israeli archaeologist Avraham Biran, you can now see its gateway, walls, buildings and - perhaps - the bamah, the cultic 'high place' complete with horned altar, originally known in Arabic as Tel - el - Kadi, or the Hill of the Judge. Was the word Dan a corruption of Dayan, becoming in time Kedi?

Whatever the reason, a visit to Park Tel Dan is truly memorable trip for adults and children alike. You can find the park signpost about 10 km east of Qiryat Shemona, on Route 99.

To view a Google map of this area, click here.

When in doubt, call for the Baron - the first Aliyah Museum, Zichron Yaakov

The early pioneers from the Balkans and Eastern Europe were encouraged by their rabbis to do more than yearn for the Return to Zion. By the late nineteenth century driven by religious idealism and, sometimes anti-Semitic persecution, but little or no idea of agricultural techniques in Eretz Israel, they started to make their way to the land of their dreams and hopes.

The fascinating First Aliyah Museum, using multimedia presentations and original film clips, takes you back to those difficult days between 1882 and 1904, through the lives of a mythical family, whose story could have been one of any of those who came to Turkish ruled Palestine at that time. Having initially failed to adapt to the harsh environment in which they arrived, they were saved by the vision – and money – of Baron Edmond de Rothschild. As you will learn, however, the relationship between his professional staff and the families was not exactly ‘brotherly love’ and there were even settler riots and protests early on in the history of the‎ y‎ishuv.
The conflict between the religious settler families and the politically motivated Zionist educators, the push for and against Hebrew as a living language as against Yiddish and the eventual understanding that, in agriculture, it is better to work with nature than against it, are all vividly brought to life.

The First Aliyah Museum is located in Bet Hapkidut, the Rothschild administration centre , which was, when it was built in 1882, thought to be the largest and grandest in Israel. Recently redeveloped with funding from the Arison Foundation, in honour of one of the founding families, it is at 2 Hanadiv St, in the heart of Zichron Yaakov, which can be easily reached from Routes 2 or 4, north of Hadera.

Remember the Baron - Zichron Yaakov

In 1882, at the top of the forbidding Carmel Mountain range, 100 Romanian pioneers purchased a tract of land in a place known in Arabic as Zammarin. Members of the Hovevei Zion movement, they dreamed of working and living off the land. However, like many other early pioneers, they were inexperienced, conditions were hard and the soil was rocky. The rest of the world came to recognise and associate the founding of the Jewish homeland with those who came in the Second Aliyah, but the immigrants of the First Aliyah really made what came later, possible. These anonymous pioneers came to the Land of Israel between 1882-1904. Their struggles - and the efforts of Baron Rothschild to help them - are celebrated in The First Aliyah Museum. Perhaps more unusual is the museum dedicated to the Bilu Group, who secretly helped pass military intelligence to the British forces in the First World War and were cruelly treated by the Turkish army when they were captured.
Leaving Zichron Yaacov on the road to Binyamina, Route 652, you will find the Ramat Hanadiv Memorial Gardens, nestled on a slope. The mature gardens and nature reserve are a real jewel, sprawled over roughly 1,100 acres, 20 of which are the memorial gardens to the great man.

Zichron Yaakov has grown in importance as an artistic, cultural and educational centre over the years. You can reach it from the main coastal highway ( Route 2) north of Hadera, turning east onto Route 70, a delightful drive itself. Alternatively, take the train to Binyamina and take a bus - about a 20 minute journey.

To view a Google map of this site, click here.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Even when it's cold it's hot at Hammat Gader

 Hammat Gader must be one of the most unusual of sites in a country which, you will readily agree, is not short of unusual sites! You can swim here in the hot outdoor pools in the depths of winter with snow falling on mount Hermon, just 60 km (37 miles) to the north. Situated at the southern tip of the Golan region, Hamat Gader, along with Tiberias, was a premier resort in Roman times. First mentioned as a Greek city in about 200BCE, it was captured by the Hasmonean king Alexander Yannai, eventually forming one of the ten Decapolis cities, with a type of semi-autonomy under the Romans. The Romans built an extensive network of buildings at the site, incorporating both hot and cold mineral pools for their patrons' pleasure.

One of the most famous visitors and, I assume, regular bathers, was Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, the codefier of the Mishna. Keen to know that their ablutions and exercise were 'under rabbinic supervision', the hot springs became very popular with other scholars and residents. Most of the Roman buildings have been excavated and partially restored and a modern mineral spring resort has been built on the site. The modern site now blends the soothing comforts of the geothermal mineral pools with fascinating Roman excavations and architecture. By the way, when I say hot, we really mean HOT. With water temperatures ranging between 40 - 52 degrees Celsius, well over body temperature, you may want to take medical advice before swimming.

The alligators, introduced some years ago as a tourist attraction, however, do not seem to have a problem. Don't worry. - they live in different pools!

Hammat Gader is well signposted off Route 7599. Turn right at Tzomet Hammat Gader on Route98, which runs along the Jordanian border at that point.

Migdal. Shmultz or pickled, this was the place to be.

Migdal, or Magdala as it was called in Roman times, was a modest fishing village on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, although it appears that it was quite a wealthy settlement. Never a very large village, its inhabitants fished in the north end of the Kinneret and controlled the valley which leads out of the Jordan Rift Valley into the hills of Galilee and the Valley of Jezreel, through the geographical feature now known as the Horns of Hittin. The village had a famous salted or pickled fish industry, sending its produce along the ancient trade routes, eventually reaching the whole of the Roman Empire. The town came to be known as ‘Magdala of the Fishes’ to distinguish it from another town of the same name, which was located just south of the Kinneret. In the Christian bible a woman whose Hebrew name was probably Miriam came from here.
After the destruction of the Second Temple, Migdal/Magdala became the seat of one of the twenty-four mishmarot, priestly divisions who used to serve in the Sanctuary. During the Roman Period, it seems that there were several villas built on the Roman pattern, with baths and mosaics. It seems that the main street, or cardo, was paved, indicating the village was more significant than normal. Very recently, ruins of importance have yet been found there, including those of a synagogue with the carving of a seven branched menorah - probably made by someone who had actually seen it in the Temple in Jerusalem. Whilst this part is still an active dig site and cannot be accessed by tourists, fragments of the paved road, parts of the Roman baths and a foundation, possibly of a synagogue from the 1st century BCE can still be seen.
More recently, it was the base for Trumpledor’s Labour Brigades which helped to open up the roads in the Galilee.

On a site above the lake can now be found the modern settlement of Migdal, with a small artists colony and delightful holiday accommodation. The views of Kinneret are spectacular. The ancient site of Migdal can be found on Route 90 about 3 miles/ 5 km north of Tiberias. The new village of Migdal is located on Route 807, just north of its junction with Route 807.

To view a Google map of this site, click here.

The cornerstone of the Galilee - old Rosh Pinah

Driving north from Lake Kinneret on Route 90, it is so easy these days to bypass Rosh Pinah, which would be a great shame, as it is a piece of history of the early modern settlers in Israel, now being restored to something like its former glory. Our story begins in 1877, when a number of families formerly living in S'fat, bought land from the Arabs of the Ja'uni village and tried to establish a Jewish settlement which they called Ge'oni. Five years later, over fifty Romanian pioneer families arrived, liked what they saw and made their homes here. They changed the name to reflect the very stony ground they had to clear. Taking the phrase from Psalm 118, which we read in Hallel," the stone rejected by the builders became the cornerstone", they changed the settlement's name to Rosh Pinah, which means "the cornerstone". The new arrivals tried farming and grew tobacco and started a silk industry. They planted mulberry trees and Baron Rothschild gave each new settler family silkworms and larvae to start them off. The British Mandate saw a customs post erected here as it was the last stop on the route to the 'Galilee panhandle ' and Syria beyond. Gradually the population of Rosh Pinah declined until some twenty five years ago, when a restoration and regeneration project breathed new life into the village.

Make your way up to the old cobbled Founder's Street and you can now visit The PICA House (Palestine Jewish Colonial Association) which housed the Rothschild clerks and has now become an exhibition centre. You can also see the 1882 synagogue, the Schwartz Hotel and other restored buildings. With its fine views of the Hula Valley and Mount Hermon, a detour to old Rosh Pinah is certainly worth the effort. You can reach it at the Junction of Routes 89 and 90.

Saturday 21 November 2009

The Ancient Galilee Boat at Ginosar. Visit the 'Miriam Vered'

The severe drought in the mid 1980's in Israel had at least one positive aspect.  In 1986, two brothers from Kibbutz Ginosar found the remains of an ancient boat which had been buried - and preserved - in the Kinneret's muddy sediments for some two thousand years.  The Israel Antiquities Authority mounted their own version of the Mary Rose rescue, using similar chemical preservatives.  It took fourteen years to complete the conservation process and to house it in a very special, atmospherically controlled, environment in a purpose built museum on the kibbutz.  The  preservation methods may have been identical to the Mary Rose, but the difference was just one of scale.  The Galilee boat is merely 8.2 metres ( 27 feet) long, built to the typical Mediterranean edge to edge 'shell' system, rather than the northern European overlapping method with which we are familiar from Viking longboats to rowing boats on the park lake.  Our boat had a single sail and oars and looked very similar to boats in ancient illustrations. 
Archaeologists have dated the wood and some of the artefacts found in and near the boat to the first centuries BCE - CE.  Was the vessel a simple fishing boat, or could it have been used by the Judaean resistance fighters in their disastrous naval battle against the might of Rome in 67 CE, as described by Josephus?

The boat, together with an excellent audio visual explanation, can be found in a new wing of the Yigal Allon Centre on Kibbutz Ginosar, on Route 90, just north of Tiberias.  You won't be disappointed that you made the trip.

To view a Google map of this site, click here.

Warm pools, kids fun and grown ups activities - Gan Haslosha / Sachne

Many of you will know that  the Galilee region is still the site of geothermal activity and nowhere more so than in the Amal River, which flows through the Gan Hashlosha National Park. With water at a constant 28 degrees Celsius (82 F) all year round it is a delight to swim in it.  A special delight is to sit under the waterfall - just don't bring your shampoo!
The park houses a host of attractions which make it even more worth a visit. 

A reconstructed water mill  is certainly worth a visit, as is  the 'mandafe' or arched room where local Arabs would traditionally welcome visitors and entertain guests.  In the park there is now an exact replica of Tel Amal, the 'tower and stockade' settlement which was put up in just one night - on 10 December 1936.  You be able to see the pioneers living quarters, with its period furniture as well as other buildings of the period, such as the dining hall and kitchen.  Children can use the 'hands on' activities and modern historians amongst you can view a video presentation on the anti Jewish riots during the time of the Mandate.  The Museum of Regional and Mediterranean Archaeology, with rare finds from the Greek  period, as well as a collection of old agricultural implements, are all housed in one delightful setting in the Lower Galilee.

Gan Hashlosha, also known as Sachne, is certainly worth an extended visit and can be found by driving on Route 669, west of bet Shean.  It is located just east of the junction with Route 6666.

To view a Google map of this site, click here.

The Soreq Caves - The Caves which started with a bang

 the story of this magnificent cave starts with an explosion in 1968, one of many at the hur Tuv quarry, which supplied gravel and rock to the construction industry.  But THIS explosion was different, as it exposed a magnificent stalactitie cave. To stop visitors and 'uninvited guests' destroying the very special stalactite formations, the authorities put up solid steel doors and, when even these did not work, they heaped up rocks across the entrance.  Nine years passed until the cave was made accessible to the public. The preparatory works demanded great caution due to the damage that could have been done - even unwittingly - by the visiting public.

Although the stalactite cave covers a relatively small area, hardly more than one acre,( about 5000 square metres)  it does not fall short of world's largest caves in magic and splendour. Wherever your eyes look, you will discover stalagmites and stalactites in every imaginable shape. 

Scientists believe that the cave was created well over five thousand years ago as a result of the dissolution of limestone by rainwater diluted with carbon dioxide. When a hollow space was formed, the process was reversed: Though the water that penetrated the cave dissolved the limestone away, the drops deposited sediments of limestone, either on the floor of the cave (stalagmites) or from its ceilings (stalactites)  .In course of time the stalactites and the stalagmites grew until they assumed their present breathtaking shapes, sometimes even joining together to create a huge limestone pipe.

You will start your visit with an audiovisual programme and guidance on what to see.  Remember - caves are always the same, cool, temperature, so bring along a sweater or jacket!

You can easily reach the caves on Route 3866 from Bet Shemesh in the west or Bar Giora junction on Roure 386 from Jerusalem.  This, in itself, is a very attractive drive. 

To view a Google map of this site, click here 

Thursday 19 November 2009

Tel Hai. A place of roaring lions, heroes and politicians.......

In the far north of Israel, off the regular tourist trail, you can find a monument to one of the pioneer heroes of modern Jewish settlement in our land and you will be reminded of the ways of international politics - as if you needed to be!

The Sykes -Picot Agreement of 1919/20 led to the splitting up of the former Turkish Empire. The French claimed Lebanon, Syria and this part of the country, the British the rest. The situation was complicated by the demands of Emir Feisal who, having fought alongside the British, laid claim to Syria and this part of the Galilee.  It contained several Jewish settlements, such as Metulla, Kfar Giladi and Tel Chai.   The Jews in the area found themselves the unwilling pawns, caught between the Arabs and the French.   

Several times Arab terrorist groups tried to attack Tel Chai and the poorly armed volunteers who had come to protect the 'tower and stockade' settlement.  The heaviest attack came on 11 th Adar 1920.  Joseph Trumpledor, a former Russian officer and colleague of Jabotinsky who had spent great efforts in trying to reconcile the squabbling Zionist political factions, had been recently appointed to command the outpost.  A ruse by the Arabs forced him to leave the relative safety of the stockade, allowing a murderous attack to begin.  Overwhelmed, Trumpledor and his brave fighters could not hold out and, mortally wounded in the stomach, he expired with now famous words "it is good to die for our country".  

 Eight men and women died in this and previous attacks and it is this fact which gave its name to the major settlement just south of Tel Chai - Qiryat Shemona.

You can reach the famous roaring lion monument, by driving north from Qiryat Shemona and, in about 1.5 km, turning west onto Route 9977.

To view a Google map of this site, click here.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Ramat Hanadiv Memorial Gardens and Nature Reserve. A memorial fit for a Baron

there canm be no finer memorial to the great benefactor Baron Edmond de Rothschild than his final resting place, Ramat Hanadiv Memorial gardens, nestled on a slope on the road which leads from Zichron Yaakov to Binyamina.  The gardens and the surrounding nature reserve are a real jewel, stretching over roughly 1,100 acres (450 ha) of which 200 acres (80 ha) form the memorial gardens.

The Baron specified in his will that he wished to be buried in Israel.  he died on November 2nd, 1934, but the remains of the Baron and Baroness were removed from the French cemetery where they had been buried and brought to Israel, where the government had decreed a state funeral for them.

Almost the first thing you see when you enter the gardens are the Rothschild coat of arms, a clenched fist with five arrows, symbolising the five sons of Mayer Rothschild, patriarch of the Rothschild clan. noy only are the gardens beautiful, comprising a fragrance garden for the visually impaired, a perfectly manicured lawn, a cascade garden, a formal rose garden, a palm garden (with just a few of the over 2500 types in the world),The Shomron Observation Point, with very welcoming cooling breezes, but they complement the Crypt, with its elegant simplicity, marking the final resting place of the couple.

For the more adventurous walker, the surrounding nature reserve will serve those who seek more than just a leisurely stroll, particularly if you are interested in archaeology.  Some of the highlights include the remains of an ancient villa: Ein Tzur, a Roman period water system, ancient quarries and much more.

A new and ecologically balanced visitors centre will show you a fascinating short film on the site and the life of Hanadiv. picnic tables and a refreshment kiosk complete the scene anda free map from the information centre will show you a number of well marked paths in the nature reserve, some more challenging than others.

The magnificent Ramat Hanadiv Memorial Gardens and Nature Reserve are located just off Route 652, between Zichron Yaakov and Binyamina.

For a Google map of this site, click here.

Where's Nittai - Arbel

When you read Pirkei Avot - the Ethics of the fathers - the history of those early leaders of rabbinic Judaism might confuse you. But at Arbel, close to Tiberias, things begin to fall into place.

In the difficult years after the Maccabean Revolt, Nittai was one of the 'zugot' or twins who ruled as joint religious leaders. It appears that his home base was Arbel, where a large synagogue was constructed.  this was well known over the following centuries and the mediaeval Jewish traveller and author, Shmuel ben Shimshon, wrote in 1210, "And we went up to Arbel and there is a big synagogue built by Nittai the Arbelite". He also noted that this famous site had aslo become associated with the supposed graves of Jacob's children, Levi, Shimon and Dinah and, some believed, Adam's son Seth!

When you walk around the remains of the synagogue today, you can come across pillars that reveal its layout in some some detail,  You will find a recess in the southern wall of the building. Strangely, the explorers from the British Palestine Exploration Fund, in the nineteeth century, thought that this was part of a mosque which was built over the original synagogue.  We, of course, know that this would have  been exactly where the Aron HaKodesh would have been located, facing Jerusalem.

You can easily find this delightful spot by driving west from Tiberias on Route77 and turning north from the dual carriageway nto Route 7717, following the signs to Moshav Arbel. the road will take you through the moshav to the synagogue site and then the observation point.

To view a Google map of this site, click here.

Park Ein Hemed -'Beautiful waters' and a good site for a wedding

As you drive up to Jerusalem, you can let your mind wander back to the heroic fighters for the State of Israel who gave their lives driving the 'Burma Road', trying to supply besieged Jerusalem in 1947/8.
But it would also be easy to forget the soldiers, travellers and others who struggled up through the Judean Hills over the centuries to reach Jerusalem, holy to three great world religions.
they may have stopped - or been stopped - on the way at Ein Hemed, now located just off the main Jerusalem Highway, Route 1.  The site was certainly developed during the Crusader period, most likely as an agricultural settlement and / or as a checkpoint on the route up to the city.  The remains of a large Crusader building are situated in the centre of the site.  Through the main entrance, an ancient oil press remains in the central courtyard.  Some historians think that the site may have been a more ancient Roman one, serving much the same purpose.

The Crusaders called the site Aqua Bella (beautiful water) because of the magnificent landscape and bubbling brook, essential for serving the garrison. Today, the site has been completely restored and beautifully landscaped, making it a favourite spot for visitors and Israelis alike. The trickling waters, rock pools and shaded picnic areas are an oasis in the dry Judean landscape which still surrounds it. Recently, the site has become a popular wedding location with Israelis and, with suitable lighting, Ein Hemed is transformed into a magical and romantic spot at night.

You can easily reach Ein Hemed by turning off Route 1 at Hemed Interchange and travlleing south for about 500 metres.

Monday 16 November 2009

Wash, press and shoot. The secret bullet factory at the Ayalon Institute

In 1945, the Haganah decided to establish a secret plant to manufacture the bullets which would win or lose the coming war of Independence. Built In just three weeks, the underground factory (in every sense) was completed and it code named the Ayalon Institute.

Above ground, a huge 10-ton baking oven (there was a working bakery here) and a large washing machine that revolved on a pivot hid the noise and fumes from the factory 8 metres below. The ‘kibbutz members’ also operated a commercial laundry. Ironically, British officers stationed in nearby Rehovot used to bring their uniforms to be laundered here!

Between 1946-1948, well over 2 million, 9mm bullets were manufactured here for the Sten sub-machine gun, which was the primary personal weapon during the war. At the height of operations, 40,000 bullets a day were made at the institute, the only supply that was not in shortage during the war.

Copper, a vital raw material needed to be imported. Applications for licenses were submitted to the Mandate authorities, who asked why so much copper was needed? The explanation, that it would be used to make lipstick cases seemed plausible enough: licenses approved!

When you tour the institute, you can actually go down the stairs and see the manufacturing area. Visits require a reservation, as currently you can only visit as part of a tour (make sure you mention that you want an English tour when you call –08 940 6552). There is also an audiovisual programme, in English.

The Ayalon Institute is located just north of Rehovot, at Kibbutzim Hill near Science Park (Kiryat Hamada). From Route 412 turn into Science Park (just north of Rehovot). Turn left onto Rehov Holtzman and follow the signs to Rehov Fikes.

Of Pastoralists, Patriarchs and Bridge Builders -The Besor Route

Recently created by JNF, the Besor Route is a 15km drive on an unmade road which will take you back to the times of our patriarchs, then to Philistines, David and most recently, water conservation schemes.
Even though you will be told that winter or early spring are the best times to visit, whatever the time of year, you owe yourself a visit to the Besor scenic route. The scenic road will take you past ancient tells, views of flowing streams and  - for much of the way – a route with orange groves on one side and pure Negev scenery on the other. For some, the highlight will be at the southern end, where a suspension footbridge has been built just, it seems, because the builders wanted to have a go and build one. When you have crossed the bridge you will see what I mean.

The Nahal Besor is one of the largest wadis in the Negev, draining the western Negev basin to the Mediterranean Sea near Gaza. In Tanach, the bible, the word  ‘Negev’ referred to an area of land south of the Judean hill country and Shephelah that was inhabitable. The Nahal Besor essentially constitutes the southern border of this ‘Negev’ and included the cities of Arad, Beersheba, Gerar, and Ziklag. Some commentators think that this is the stream referred to as “The Brook of Egypt” in the Bible, meaning the border with Egypt.
We are told in Bereshit / Genesis chapters 20 and 26 that Abimelech the Philistine king ruled in Gerar. With famine threatening Canaan, Abraham went down to Gerar and made a pact with Abimelech, leading to an episode that embarrassed Sarah and greatly distressed him.  It was to here that Isaac later returned with his large herds. His shepherds got into an argument with Abimelech’s shepherds over the right to drink the well water…………. but that’s another story. 

Later on, the tribe of Shimon / Simeon seems to have found excellent pastures here. You might be surprised when driving the route in summer, but the first rains of winter change the whole picture and the area grows a delicate green coat. No wonder the Simeonites found in them "fat pasture and good."
The Nahal Besor has also been identified with the Wadi Shallaleh and is the location of an interesting episode in the life of David before he became king, when he lived with the Philistines at the city of Ziklag that he was given.  You can read about the surprising tale in 1 Samuel 30.

The route also has opportunities for viewing magnificent birds of prey wheeling in the sky above you. This really is a most unusual trip and not to be missed.

The Besor Route is accessed from route 241, 5km west of Urim junction and it ends at the junction of Route 222.

Sunday 15 November 2009

……when it’s ajar. The remarkable history of Dor

Just 20 miles (30km) south of Haifa, sits one of the most remarkable ports in ancient Israel - and one of its best beaches. Dor was written about by the ancient Egyptians and features in the Tanach, where it appears as one of the five cities of the North which joined Jabin , King of Hazor to oppose Joshua.  But far more than this, archeaologists from many world class universities have been digging for many years and have found evidence of settlement by Canaanites, Sea People, Israelites, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans, all of whom appreciated its unique harbour location.  They have even discovered Iron Age slipways and a dry dock!  Even more staggering is the finding of the oldest glassware in the world, a small jar which has been dated to over 1000BCE.
David and Solomon included Dor in the province of Sharon and it seemed to have been an important part of the Northern Kingdom.

Josephus called Dor “a fortress difficult to take” but when Herod built Caesarea just down the road, its importance shrank. Napoleon used it to evacuate wounded soldiers from his siege of Akko, but it came back to prominence in 1891, when Rothschild decided that it would be a good place to start a glass factory, as his wines from the local vineyards needed to be put into something.  The factory failed after four years, as the sand from the beach which he wanted to use was the wrong type, but his factory manager decided to stay in the country and moved down the coast to start a new life – and perhaps even a new town.  His name? Meir Dizengoff. The new town he started? Tel Aviv.

The factory building now houses a fascinating museum of some of the finds from this remarkable site.

Dor is part of Nachsholim, a delightful settlement with a magnificent beach, well worth a visit on its own.  You can find Dor/Nachsholim at the end of Route 7011, which is reached off Route 4, just north of Fureidis Junction.  You cannot get to it from Route 2 directly.
 To see a Google map of this site, click here.

Saturday 14 November 2009

Appolonia? Arshof? Sozousa? Arsour? No wonder they all fought over it!

As you drive the few hundred metres north from bustling Hertzliyah Pituach beach that, in 1191, a decisive battle was won by the Crusaders at this very spot, which was to established their reign in the Holy Land for another 100 years. Today the place is known as, Apollonia, or Tel Arsuf. But its history can be traced for thousands of years beforethe Crusaders got there.
Archaeologists tell us that the Phoenicians established the first settlement in the sixth century BCE although people had settled in this area 2,500 years earlier. During their heyday they were regarded as the most knowledgeable in seafaring and astronomy, which enabled them to trade various commodities to, it is alleged, as far away as Cornwall. It was the tin that they were after, not clotted cream teas, although that may have been a bonus!
The Phoenicians named the settlement along the coastal plain Arshof, in honour of Reshef, their god of War and Thunder. In the Hellenistic period the city was re-named Apollonia, as the Greeks identified Reshef with Apollo.
It was the Romans who developed the settlement into a real city and it reached its greatest importance during the Byzantine era, when it was re –named, yet again, Sozousa and served as the Episcopal See of Palaestina Prima. At that time it also served as the most important port of the Southern Sharon area and, it appears, was an unfortified city, clearly showing that the land had some sort of peace. The residents built and utilised underground rain water reservoirs and there is evidence of an elaborate glass making industry, as well as wine and olive presses.
We know that in 640 CE the Muslims gained control of the city and erected an outer wall around just a portion of the city. King Baldwin I succeeded in conquering the city, in the spring of 1101, with the help of the Genoese fleet. Once again the city's name was changed, this time to Arsour and a large castle was built in the northern section of the city. In 1265 the Mamluk sultan Baybars, finally conquered the city and made the Crusaders raze the city and the fortress, which lay in ruins until the excavations began in the mid 1990’s.
Apollonia, with its rebuilt walls and buildings and its delightful walks along the cliff top, is a fascinating step back through layers of complex Holy Land history and is certainly worth a visit. The most exciting view is when turning to look south, when two and a half millennia of occupation lays at your feet with the skyscraper skyline of Tel Aviv in the distance.
Directions: From Tel Aviv take Route 2 north for about 10 minutes, until the Kfar Shmaryahu exit. At the off ramp, stay to your left and follow the brown signs Tel Arsuf. From Hertzliyah Pituach, drive north as if towards the Kfar Shemarhayu junction, but keep driving north and follow the signs.

Thursday 12 November 2009

Kiddy fun and fruit - Shvil Hatapuzim

Once upon a time there was an orange grove, but things being how they are in the orange growing world, the owners decided that it would be far better to adapt it to become a DIY children’s amusement park and activity centre.  Shvil Hatapuzim (the orange path) is situated within the orange grove (the owners even claim that ‘no orange tree was harmed in the development of the amusement park’).
Shvil Hatapuzim is a totally child-friendly miniature amusement park. There are paddling pools, water chutes, a miniature golf course and kiddie electric go-karts running on a narrow path. There is even a small boating river where you can safely let your children paddle the boat because of the depth of water and width of the ‘river’.  For the slightly more adventurous, there is a ‘water jet’ combat zone (that’s the best way I can describe it), rides of all sorts and, sensibly for hot days, a large picnic area covered with a fine netting which dowses you in a fine mist every few minutes!

The snack bar sells all the food you would imagine and does a great trade in ice creams and lollies and the sort of stuff that should only be allowed as an occasional treat. Although the non Israeli “health and safety police’ might raise an eyebrow or two, everyone seemed to be perfectly happy just the way it is. Also note that all the signs are in Hebrew, as is their website.

The real challenge is to actually find it! On Route 65, east of Hadera and past the junction with Route 4, keep driving until, in a few kilometres, you see a petrol filling station on your right. Just before the entrance, there is a hand painted sign leading onto a dirt track. The sign, in Hebrew (and quite amateur design, too), is virtually at the turn off, so try not to overshoot it. Follow the track (don’t panic!) and you will eventually drive under Route 65 and find yourself in a large parking area, by the main Tel Aviv/ Haifa railway line. Getting there is only the start of the adventure!

For a Google map of this location, click here.

Orchids, butterflies, animals, mazes and a garden centre - of course it’s Utopia!

Whilst the name is, perhaps, 'the triumph of hope over experience', Utopia park, cobering over ten acres of Kibbutz Bahan, in the centre of the Hepher valley region, is one of the newest and most talked about attractions in Israel. It features an indoor 'botanical / ecological' park, which focuses on orchid cultivation, with about 20,00o plants in bloom, in tens of different species and cultivars, some of which are quite rare. With aerial walkways, waterfalls, tropical plants (some of which are carnivorous), the kibbutz has really tried to create the natural environment and atmosphere of the tropical rainforest.

Beyond the 'rain forest' is the butterfly house and garden, which is a delight for children and adults alike. Hundreds of butterflies flourish in a specially created area, complete with plants grown to enable the best conditions for butterflies to flourish and reproduce.

Not content with orchids and butterflies? Inside the park there is a 'pets' corner' with a variety of domestic and wild animals and birds. Just remember though, that their natural food is not the pretzel! In addition, the park has not one, but two mazes, one traditional and one a two level, ficus maze spreading over 2,000 square metres. With its wide variety of activities, both indoor and outdoor and its convenient location, Utopia Park is a really unusual day out.

You can find it on Kibbutz Bahan, on Route 5714, off Route 57, just inland from Natanya.

To view a Google map of this site, click here.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Mamshit. Provide a Spice Route B&B and UNESCO will reward you!

The Nabateans managed to do what almost no one else did for about 2000 years. They lived - and indeed thrived - in the depths of the Negev. Just how and why can be seen in the city of Mamshit, first settled around the time of the Second Temple and it will still amaze you as you tour the 350-acre Mamshit National Park, located a little east of Dimona on the main Negev road to Eilat. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, you will see why it earned that title.
Among Mamshit’s highlights is “the wealthy house” with spacious rooms built around a courtyard and a three-story guard tower you can still climb for a fabulous view of the surroundings.
There are two churches on the site with mosaics date from the Byzantine period, when Mamshit attracted Christian pilgrims crossing the Negev. Another typical Nabatean dwelling includes a stable for 16 horses, as the Nabateans other claim to fame is that they began raising Arab horses and it, too, was an important part of Mamshit’s economy. 

The originally autonomous Nabateans were great traders and made Mamshit a way station along on the Spice Route, over which they brought frankincense and myrrh out of the Arabian Peninsula via the Mediterranean to Europe. They also tamed their harsh desert surroundings by harvesting every drop of precious water into a complex system of channels, cisterns and dams, one of which was rebuilt by the British Mandate troops. You can see the reconstructed market street and imagine just how welcome it must have been to the tired and thirsty travellers.

David Ben-Gurion was so inspired by their agricultural achievements that he even urged the rebuilding of mamshit as the new capital city of Israel. Perhaps it was for the best that this was one of his ideas which didn't take on.
So what happened to the Nabateans? Overtaken by Rome, Byzantium and finally the Arab conquest, they simply faded away.


Mamshit is located just east of Dimona on Route 25

Click here for a Google map of this site

You'll be happy in The House of the Lord - Tel Mond

When Ludwig Mond fled nascent German anti-Semitism in the mid nineteenth century, it would appears that he decided to deny his heritage, certainly to his children. Alfred went to Cambridge and Edinburgh universities and qualified as a lawyer, before joining his father’s chemical and metal companies, where, as managing director, he eventually brought them together as a modest little enterprise called Imperial Chemical industries, ICI.

Mond was heavily involved in politics and, as seems a quite common occurrence in those times, switched party allegiance from Liberal to Conservative. With World War I approaching, Alfred found himself faced with anti-semitic attacks, as a “German and Jewish traitor.” Despite this lunacy, Lloyd George in 1916 appointed him Commissioner of Works, organising a vast programme of factories for supply of ammunition and construction work, jetties, factories, hospitals, camps and barracks. Lloyd George said: “No better business brain has ever been placed at the disposal of the State in high office than that of Sir Alfred Mond” .

Alfred was married to a non-Jew, and his children Henry and Eva were raised as Christians. However,in 1917, at the age of 50, he seemed to undergo a deep change in religious feelings and he gave his first speech in which he spoke in the name of the Jewish people.
Chaim Weizmann invited him to Palestine in 1922. They stayed at Government house as Guests of Sir Herbert Samuel and Alfred wrote back to his wife, “I have learned much I didn’t know and which, possibly, no one who is not a Jew will ever be able to understand, for it can only be felt.”  

Mond became President of the British Zionist Foundation and took on the responsibility for negotiations with the British Government, became a speaker on American fund raising trips, and was a member of the Joint Palestine Survey Committee which looked at the issue of resettlement in Palestine. Mond was the first President of the Technion in Haifa and was the guest of honour at its official opening in 1925. Elevated to the peerage, he took the title lord Melchett.Lord Melchett’s son Henry, the second Lord Melchett, and daughter 
Eva Mond - the second Marchioness of Reading - both converted to Judaism
in the early 1930s and, following their father’s death, laid the foundation for
the memorial statue of their father that stands today in the centre of Tel Mond. 

He made huge monetary contributions to Zionist causes and purchased large areas of unfarmed land in the area, which he opened up to agriculture. He bought for himself fifty acres of land in Migdal on lake Kinneret (which is also well worth a visit), and had a house built, which is now available for functions.  Alfred Mond died in 1930. He was held in such high esteem that, the night before the burial, Dr. Chaim Weizmann took part in the first watch over his body.

The fascinating life of Alfred Mond can be discovered at his house,The House of the Lord, as small museum in Tel Mond, accessible on Route 5522, the road from Route 4, east of Natanya. The museum is only open in the mornings.
To see the google map of this site, click here