Sunday 11 April 2010

Hurshat Tal - A park for all seasons and tastes

There’s always a danger when speaking about Israel, of ‘overegging the pudding’ (a phrase which I have consistently used whilst not really understanding – much like my grandmother’s skills at egg sucking!). Having said that, however, I must really recommend Hurshat Tal National Park, right in the northern part of the Hula Valley, as it is the ideal place to spend either a few hours or, in the cabins or camping grounds, a day or more. The landscaped lawns of this delightful spot are well maintained and the well-appointed and kept campground occupy 100 of the approximately 190 acres of the national park. In addition to campsites, the campground has bungalows and rooms for rent, which is a worthwhile option for the canvas-phobic amongst us!

One reason for the lush lawns is a tributary stream of the Dan River, which cuts through the park and fills a large pond (really a small lake) which is open for swimming: best in summer, though. The, by now inevitable, waterslides here are among the highest in the country and the fishing area provides a relaxing diversion at surprisingly no additional charge. So, in theory, you can catch your lunch, cook it on the spot and them promptly recycle it again by using the water slides too soon after eating!!!!

About 25 acres of the national park were declared a nature reserve some time back, in recognition of the 240 rare Mount Tabor oaks growing there. Many centuries old, these trees are among the largest in Israel and should not be missed, as they will remind you of what the land used to look like before many settlers arrived. After the rainy season, in springtime, much of the park is ablaze with anemones and other wild flowers and the park becomes a tourist magnet, especially for Israelis.

Hurshat Tal really is an ideal informal base for exploring the Galilee, the northern Golan Heights, and the Mount Hermon area and, although seemingly remote, is but a few hours easy drive from central Israel.
You can find it on Roue 918 just south of Route 99 at Hurshat Tal junction, about 5 km east of Qiryat Shemona, just east of kibbutz Hagoshrim.

They all wanted to be buried at Bet She'arim

 Bet She'arim was a flourishing, wealthy Jewish town from the 2nd-4th centuries CE. At one point the town became the seat of the Sanhedrin (Jewish religious council), after Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi moved his study centre there. The Sanhedrin later moved, together with Rabbi Yehudah, to Tzippori – only some 15 km (10 miles) away and almost ‘up the road’, as it were. 

But the town's claim to fame was not, as you will readily see, who lived there, but who was buried there! Following Rabbi Yehudah's burial in Bet She'arim, it became at matter of honour for Jews from Israel and the diaspora to be buried close to him. You will find evidence that Rabbis Shimon, Gamliel and Hanina were all buried there in vaults and stone coffins decorated according to status - and pocket, no doubt.

File:Cave of coffins.jpg

Bet She'arim's former wealth is evident by the vast, ornately decorated necropolis discovered beneath the town. Numerous courtyards, corridors and stairways lead to the many underground burial chambers, all beautifully decorated in the artistic styles of the time, some from Greek mythology, such as the battle of the Amazons. What would we make of similar demands today? We can only speculate, but my guess is that it would be ‘lo with an alef!’

As usual, the inhabitants revolted against the yoke of Rome, this time in the year 351 CE, perhaps with the Jewish inhabitants getting a whiff of the impending fall of the Western Roman empire, just 60 years away. Unsurprisingly, however, it was brutally suppressed and the town, as well as surrounding towns, was burnt and destroyed. A climb to the top of the hill, where the remains of an ancient basilica still stand, will give you a beautiful panoramic view of the Jezreel Valley and Carmel Mountain Range. One of the vaults has been turned into a museum. Visit and marvel at the glory of the former town – and those who were buried there.

Bet She'arim can by found just off Route 722, the road linking Routes 70 and 75, south of Qiryat Tivon.
To view a Google map of this site, please click here