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Touring Israel With Kids

Touring Israel With Kids

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Climbing up Masada at dawn? Breathtaking.

Placing notes between the cracks of the Kotel? Uplifting.

Taking your family on a trek through the Jewish homeland? Priceless.

A tour of Israel is an experience that will remain with your children forever. Hiking in Ein Gedi, snorkeling among colorful fish in Eilat and exploring the underground tunnels of Jerusalem are adventures they will talk about for years to come. Everywhere you travel, they will see the Torah come to life. And exploring Israel through your child’s eyes is bound to give new meaning to your own journey.

Land of Genesis (Eretz Bereishit)

Even the car ride to Eretz Bereishit, located near Ma’aleh Adumim, made me feel I was back in biblical times. Surrounded by picturesque mountains and vast desert, it provides the ideal setting for a meeting with Abraham.

In Eretz Bereishit (literally, the Land of Genesis) we were met by Abraham’s servant, Eliezer, who invited us to board a caravan of camels and travel back in time to the tent of Abraham. This is a place where the Bible comes to life; sometimes visitors come face to face with Joseph’s brothers as they are about to throw him into the pit. Other times they witness the courtship between Rebecca and Isaac. When we disembarked from our camels, we were greeted by a man in a long colorful robe

My kids could not have been more thrilled. But when they were offered the treat of a camel ride—with their particular camel walking dangerously close to the edge of a mountain (thankfully, mine did not)—they were simply ecstatic! When we disembarked from our camels we were greeted by a man in a long colorful robe claiming to be Abraham, though he looked quite young and spoke much better English than I would have expected. He invited us to wash our hands after our long journey, and showered us that ancient hospitality for which Abraham is so famous. He showed us around his oversized tent, which he said offered the best air-conditioning system in the ancient world. We sat on mattresses around low tables and were given dried fruits, white tea and other delicacies. (You can also order more elaborate menus in advance and receive a large lunch/dinner.)

Then we baked our own pita bread over an open fire. I was a bit nervous about whether this was safe for the children, but Abraham’s helpers were there to assist. My children were enchanted by their meeting with this character from the past, and argued about whether or not this was the real Abraham. They concluded that he was an impostor, but loved baking the bread, sitting in the tent, and especially the camel ride. As for me, pita bread and white tea never tasted so good! I would recommend this activity for anyone with young children.

The Old City of Jerusalem

During the numerous trips my family has taken to Israel, we always spend several days in Jerusalem. I always remind visitors to go to Jerusalem’s Old City, because I once encountered a tourist who had seen just about every major site in Israel except for the Western Wall. That’s worse than visiting New York and neglecting to visit the Statue of Liberty or Times Square! Needless to say, I promptly directed her to a bus that would take her to the Old City. More than 4,000 years old, it is a treasure trove of wonders. As it says in the Talmud, “Ten measures of beauty descended on the world—nine were taken by Jerusalem.”

The Western Wall is Israel’s main attraction. More than 4,000 years old, it is a treasure trove of wondersRevered as a remnant of the wall of the Temple Mount that enclosed the ancient Holy Temple, it is Judaism’s most sacred site. Worshippers come here from all over the world to pray and place written prayers and requests between the stones. We took the guided tour of the Western Wall Tunnels to gain a deeper understanding of the local history. My children were astounded to learn that as massive as the aboveground Western Wall is, at over 180 feet long and over 60 feet high, it really is nearly 1,700 foot long (most of the wall lies beneath the Old City).

We touched portions of the huge arches that supported Jerusalem’s streets over the millennia, and of course the Western Wall itself, some of its stone blocks among the largest ever discovered. The tunnels contain, along with a huge underground portion of the Western Wall, remnants of the road that ran beside the Temple Mount in Herod’s time and a Hasmonean-era aqueduct. Most impressive was a single 45-foot stone weighing around 550 tons, a part of the Western Wall.

I also recommend the nearby Davidson Center, where you can see some of the most significant archeological findings from the area. There you can view remains from the Second Temple to the Crusader periods. A private guide showed us around the center, where a computerized media and visual presentations made the information come alive for our children. My son, an avid coin collector, was particularly excited when he saw a display of ancient coins.

A highlight of any visit to the City of David is a walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a long, narrow waterway hewn deep under the ancient city by order of King Hezekiah. The tunnel assured his citizens they’d have access to the Gihon Spring in case of an Assyrian invasion. While my children listened to our tour guide explain the significant archeological discoveries made in that area, the walk through the tunnel was what they remembered most from that trip. Through the long, dark walk in the tunnel (we forgot flashlights, and had to make do with the one our guide lent us), we splashed in the water, sang songs, and helped each other get through some precariously slippery spots. It was a great family bonding activity. Be warned that the water is cold and can occasionally become 3 feet deep. You might want to bring flashlights, and towels to dry off afterwards.

Dig For a DayWe dropped our shovels and huddled over him as he pulled out a shard of pottery

We dug and dug in the dirt of the cave floor until, finally, we got what we came for. “Mom!” shouted my son excitedly. “I found something!” We dropped our shovels and huddled over him as he pulled a shard of pottery out of the ground. He beamed as if he had just discovered a rare baseball card. The archeologist of the Dig for a Day site ambled over to inspect the relic and declared the pottery to be at least 2,200 years old, adding that it was likely from the time of the Maccabees. We looked at each other in disbelief. The Maccabees? As in the heroes from the Chanukah story? My son’s grin grew wider. Perhaps the piece of pottery was a cup that Judah Maccabee himself had held in his hands. The archeologist placed the pottery into a bin for items saved for posterity.

The Dig for a Day program in the 1,250-acre Beit Guvrin National Park in the Judean plain was a great introduction to archeology, and brought Jewish history alive for our children. In the under-three-hour program run by Archeological Seminars, we became professional excavators and felt literally in touch with the land of Israel.

Many caves in the area have not been excavated, and therefore it is surprisingly easy for visitors to dig up remains from the Hellenistic period. Practically every dig of the shovel turns up something interesting—a bone, a piece of pottery or metal, a relic from centuries ago. Afterward, you can explore the beautiful national park with its many caves and beautiful scenery.

Currently, Archaeological Seminars is digging at the Tel Maresha area of Beit Guvrin, the ancestral home of King Herod. Vast underground labyrinths of man-made rooms are being systematically cleaned, and give evidence of underground industrial complexes dating from the Hellenistic period. Remains of olive oil production, weaving installations, water cisterns and baths have been found there. The site offers a wealth of discoveries and practical experience for those who want to “dig” but have limited time. Dig for a Day is an appropriate activity for adults as well as children. Just bear in mind that your clothes will get dirty.

Safari in Tel AvivThe largest collection of animals in the Middle East is in Tel Aviv

If you yearn to go where the wild things are, take a ride through the safari in Ramat Gan. Most tourists are more familiar with Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo (Tisch Family Zoological Gardens), but few people realize that the largest collection of animals in the Middle East is actually at the Zoological Center of Tel Aviv, an African safari park and zoo located in the heart of Israel. It covers 250 acres of land, and houses 1,600 species from around the globe, including mammals, birds and reptiles.

When we entered the park, we drove down narrow paths lined with hippos, flamingos, gazelles, lions and ostriches that roam freely. Some ostriches brushed up against our car and peered into our windows. “They are trying to break into our car,” shrieked my daughter happily as she edged closer to her door for a closer peek. “Maybe they need a snack,” said my son as he dug into his knapsack. (Caution: do not feed the animals, or they really will try to get into your car.) The lions were not so fun to watch, as they were sunbathing and ignoring us, though we pleaded with them to move.

After driving through the safari portion of the park, we parked the car, met some relatives and walked around the beautifully landscaped zoo. (Tip: If you are in Israel without a babysitter, it’s beneficial to meet with friends and relatives over activities instead of dinner, so you can cover more ground in Israel and have more time for conversation.) The children were entertained by the bears, elephants, kangaroos, camels, and more varieties of monkeys and birds than we knew existed.

Soreq Cave

If you want to see something different, visit Israel’s Soreq Cave to see stalactites and stalagmites that are absolutely dripping with awesomeness.

The Soreq Cave at the Avshalom Nature Reserve, two miles from Bet Shemesh, is believed to be one of the world’s most active stalactite caves, meaning its moist air and mineral-rich droplets are still building stalactites and stalagmites.

The cave was discovered in 1968 when a crew of workers excavating a nearby quarry set off an explosion. The blast opened a window into the cave, which had been hidden from the world for years. Authorities were stunned by the complex clusters of ancient stalactites and stalagmites in the cave. One particularly poignant pair of speleothems, or formations in the making, is nicknamed Romeo and Juliet because they “grow” together.The magic and splendor of the cave makes up for its small size

Although the stalactite cave covers a relatively small area, the magic and splendor of the cave makes up for its small size. Wherever you look are beautiful stalagmites and stalactites in every imaginable configuration.

When we arrived at the site, crowded with holiday visitors, we were ushered into a theater to see an informative film about how the stalactites and stalagmites were formed. According to the film and guides, the cave was formed by water flowing from the surface to the cave, melting limestone on the way. Over thousands of years each drop deposited a thin layer on the ceiling and on the ground, and these tiny layers add up to the stalactites and stalagmites. Some of them grew to be quite long, while others grew and met in the middle, forming a pillar.

Finally we were allowed into the cave, where lighting is kept dim to protect the formations. We walked down a specially designed path, which takes approximately an hour to complete without a guide. We began our tour with a guide who stopped along the way to offer explanation, but our children were eager to explore the natural treasures, so we completed the walk ourselves.

Jeeping in the Desert

As our jeep careered near the side of a mountain cliff at top speed, my children squealed with delight. “This is amazing!” shouted my son, encouraging the Israeli driver to press the gas pedal even harder. The jeep flew, bounced and jerked on a rocky terrain, and my children giggled, shouted and cheered. Meanwhile, my husband and I held onto our seats for dear life. I wondered whether I could call an attorney and dictate my will before it was too late.

We were jeeping in Midbar Yehudah (the Judean Desert). In our case, that meant an Israeli daredevil driver was driving (and I use that term liberally) up and down mountains, over rocks, through water and in a variety of other places where vehicles surely do not belong. As he did this, he chose to announce, “This is my first time driving!” or, “Help, I’m running out of gas!”

Our driver, Moshe, took us to a variety of places in the desert, including Wadi Kelt, where we took a hike in water; a Bedouin village, where my children took donkey rides; and the top of a high mountain, where we enjoyed beautiful scenery before he zoomed down into the valley, despite my wild screams.

Many tour companies in Israel offer jeep rides. I would advise tourists to take a tour that offers something beyond a bumpy ride. The tour that we took with Artzeinu Tours included places mentioned in the Bible as well as some entertaining stops for the children. I would not recommend this activity for anyone who is pregnant, has heart problems or is just plain chicken.

Deena Yellin is a reporter at a daily newspaper in New Jersey. Her work has been published in The Jerusalem Post, Newsday and The New York Times.
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Sarah May 9, 2014

B"H

Brava! I felt like I was right there with you throughout your Israeli tour, and I had the time of my life! Thank you! I want to go to Israel more than ever. Hashem has blessed you with a great ability to write. Good job! Reply

DENSINGH DAVID MUMBAI, INDIA March 11, 2014

i have been in Israel for 10 nights and 9 day i have not seen those above detailed sites just inform me to visit these sites how u got all these tour Reply

Inge Reisinger Germany February 2, 2010

B'H
thank you for this lovely travel experiences
it's always interesting tovisit places which are
already mentioned in the Holy book and to see
how all prophecies have come true. Reply

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