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It’s time to build a visitor’s center in Modi’in
By DANIELLA HELLERSTEIN
11/12/2013
A visitor’s center would send a message to our youth that their connection to their city goes deeper than a skateboarding park.
 
This past summer the city of Modi’in hosted a wide array of cultural events (approximately 40) for our youth. The city is to be commended for the time and effort spent ensuring that its kids and teens remained entertained throughout the long, hot summer. Specific attention was given to the large teen population, who had their own hang-out, dubbed The Village, which was located at the new extreme park built primarily for teens. The park was also the site of the extreme street fair which hosted breakdancing and skateboarding competitions and concerts.

Soon after the summer, I joined Mayor Haim Bibas on his bus tour of Modi’in, which focused mainly on the amazing projects and plans for the city.

It was truly thrilling to traverse the city while the mayor explained the details about additional amenities soon to be built. More parks, sports complexes, shopping and even a boutique hotel. Modi’in just keeps getting better. Yet, with all the planning for what should be built next, it’s what is not in the plans which became most glaring. How could a city that is being built with such foresight and fortitude, with such aspirations and excitement, leave its own history behind in the dust as it forges ahead at record speed?

On the two-hour bus ride around the city of the Macabbees, there was not one mention of them, nor a hint at the Hanukka story or any other historic connection between ancient and modern Modi’in. Admittedly, the tour was not a historical one but rather a chance for residents to get up close and personal with what’s in store for the future, but shouldn’t memorializing our history be part of our future plan?

Over the election period it became clear that I am not the only one jarred by the city’s investment in our future while ignoring our past. Candidates and residents expressed desire for a tangible connection to the place we live that links residents to their shared history and to each other, something I believe is as much, if not more, an investment in our future and more importantly, our kids’ future as any skate park.

It’s astonishing how little our youth actually know about Modi’in’s history.

By the time they graduate, the city’s youth should be experts in ancient Modi’in. Yet, they learn almost nothing in school and few, if any, of the school trips include a tour of the local historic sites only blocks away.

In addition, Modi’in should be the place where others come to connect to their roots by learning about the monumental events that took place here.

After 17 years, Modi’in can proudly boast thriving communities equipped with all the amenities of a modern city, but where is the city’s soul? Modi’in’s central location has attracted tens of thousands of people. But is that all this city is? A convenient midway point between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv? Titura, the most well know historical site in the city, continues to be threatened.

The ancient synagogue Um El Umdan is being preserved in a joint effort by the city and the national government but it is not set up to accommodate visitors. Most residents are unaware of the other nearby sites (such as Givat Sher) and the many trails with historical value. Certainly none of these draw outside visitors.

Modi’in is most well-known historically as the site of the Hanukka story where the Maccabees fought the Greeks. Every Hanukka, without fail, I receive calls from family and friends from around the country asking what there is to see in Modi’in to learn about Hanukka. Sadly, every year, I tell them there is nothing. Yes, there is a parade and a contest and other annual events.

But these are scheduled, one-time productions that you must know about in advance and are not necessarily intended to educate or connect the public to the land.

I dream of a proper visitor’s center that would draw people from the around the country and tourists from around the world, a place that promoted the heritage of the actual land the modern city of Modi’in is built on. Such a center would be the heart and soul of the city, a source of pride to the residents, and especially our youth, sending the message that the land our homes and stores and parks were built on have immeasurable value beyond their mere economic worth.

Practically speaking, Modi’in’s proximity to the airport would make it a natural first stop for tour groups. People would come in droves to learn about Modi’in’s history, see the many artifacts that have been unearthed during construction and be taken on guided tours of the ancient sites. Like in many other visitors’ centers, there might be a movie which brings past events to life allowing guests of all ages to get a real taste of ancient life in Modi’in and how it served as a resting point on the way to Jerusalem.

Such a center would no doubt be expensive to build (some estimates are as high as NIS 30 million) but it would also be a source of income for the city and boost the city’s local economy. In addition to the entrance fee, local tour guides could be available through the center to take visitors to other sites and trails in and around Modi’in. Of course, once in Modi’in people would take advantage of the vast shopping and eating opportunities. Modi’in would be listed as a tourist attraction giving it valuable publicity. The visitor’s center would also provide volunteer opportunities for residents.

Most importantly, though, a visitor’s center would send a message to our youth that their connection to their city goes deeper than a skateboarding park. The city expresses priorities through spending and consciously, or subconsciously, the teens view what’s really important through that prism. Movie theaters, bowling alleys and malls all add to our quality of life but to give our lives meaning we, and our children, need more.

The writer is a resident of Modi’in.
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