(photo credit: KKL)
As is the case every year, KKL-JNF invited the public to visit and tour its parks and forests during the recent Passover holiday, free of charge. In addition, KKL-JNF organized various activities for the entire family, including hikes through nature, some with a strong historical emphasis. In Israel's central region, visitors were invited to Ayalon-Canada Park for a hike through Springs Valley, to the Mexico recreation area in Ben Shemen Forest and a hike to the Shomrim monument, and to Adulam France Park and Samson's Trail at Tzora. We joined the many vacationers taking advantage of KKL-JNF activities at Adulam and Tzora, and saw for ourselves how KKL-JNF guides made history come alive on Passover 2011, two or three thousand years later.
Above the Ground and Underground at Adulam France Park
Asael Lavi, our KKL-JNF guide, met our group at KKL-JNF's offices in Givat Yeshayahu. Before directing us to Adulam France Park, he took us for a tour of KKL-JNF's archaeological garden at this site. Visitors saw how flour was ground by hand or by donkey- powered mills, learned about burial customs during the Second Temple period, and more. Asael also spoke about the region: "On the other side of the highway, there is KKL-JNF's British Park, 40,000 dunams of forests, natural woodlands and various sorts of recreation areas. Today we will be visiting Adulam France Park, so called because it was adopted by friends of KKL-JNF from France.
"After 1948, this entire region was largely abandoned, which allowed the natural flora and fauna to return. A few villages were built, and both the army and also real estate developers had their eyes on this area. KKL-JNF was able to thwart their designs and today, the entire region is a huge biospheric park where farmers, animals, trees and many species of vegetation live in harmony and balance, ensuring that the region's biodiversity will be preserved for future generations."
Asael led the group up a hill from which there was a 360 degree view of Adulam France Park. This was the site of the Second Temple era town of Burgin, or as it is called in the Talmud and Josephus, Kfar Bish. Asael explained: "When English explorers came here towards the end of the nineteenth century, they asked the local Arabs what the name of these ruins was, and the answer was 'Um el-Burgein', which literally means 'the mother of the two towers'. In fact, both the Talmud and Josephus relate that there were five Jewish towns here, and one of them was Kfar Bish, which had two very impressive towers. We are standing next to the remains of one of them.
"Before the Romans conquered Jerusalem, they decided to first destroy the Jewish hinterland around the city. One of the five cities was Kfar Etri, just a couple hilltops away. The Romans destroyed the city and the inhabitants of Kfar Bish saw it going up in flames from this very hilltop. They met the Romans with an olive branch, a symbol of surrender at that time. The Romans accepted their gesture and did not destroy the city."
Asael had an adventure in store for our group. He led us into an underground cave, from which a number of narrow passageways branched out. "Jewish settlement in the Adulam region did not stop with the destruction of the Second Temple. In 130 AD, the Bar Kochva Rebellion began, and in anticipation of the fighting, Jewish communities throughout Israel dug out underground living quarters to hide in while the men fought the Romans, using guerilla tactics. Unfortunately, the Romans discovered them and smoked the Jews out of their tunnels. When the smoke forced the Jews to come up to the surface for air, the Roman soldiers decapitated them."
After crawling through the underground passageways, we came back out to the brilliant summer sun, and Asael led the group to another hollow, a very impressive Byzantine burial cave. Asael talked about the Byzantime monks who used to live here, and could have gone on, but unfortunately, it was time to go back to the cars. It seemed as if Asael's encyclopedic knowledge of history, flora and fauna could hold the group spellbound for many more hours.
Shmuel and Yehudit Saltzman of Rishon Letziyon said that they always made a point of spending at least one of the intermediate days of holidays on a KKL-JNF activity: "We also go on a lot of KKL-JNF's 'Free on Friday' outings. We didn't know what we were getting into today, having to crawl on our stomachs through the bowels of the earth, but we certainly have something to tell our grandchildren about. It's incredible how learning about the region's history makes it come alive. It also reminds us how Jewish existence in the Holy Land was threatened all through history, each time with a different excuse. Asael said that KKL-JNF brings schoolchildren here. Learning about our past in the field rather than out of textbooks is really important for the next generation."In the Footsteps of Samson
In the Lower Judean Plain, near Tzora, KKL-JNF, with the help of its friends from Sweden, created a trail that tells the story of Samson, taking visitors through the area where Samson roamed in biblical times. The trail is part of Sweden Park, which is located in President's Forest (Ya'ar Hanasi), and begins by the Sweden Park donor appreciation columns, which are located in a recreation area that is fully accessible to people in wheelchairs.
The trail is comprised of a number of stations, each of which has signposts with verses from the bible describing different chapters of Samson's life. Under the shade of the carob tree at the first station, Passover holiday visitors heard about the extraordinary circumstances of Samson's birth and how his parents decided that he should be a Nazerite.
After reading about how Samson tore a lion apart with his bare hands, visitors proceed to an area where KKL-JNF built a long wooden table with tree stumps for chairs. The signposts tell the story of how, after Samson took his first Philistine wife, he made a banquet and invited all his Philistine friends, where they had a riddles contest. People hiking the trail sit around the table and have something to eat while they hear the story of how Samson's first wife tricked him into revealing the answer to his riddle to her and of Samson's terrible revenge.
No visit to this site is complete without climbing up to the Tel Tzora scenic lookout,
from which there is one of the most beautiful views in Israel. The weather during Passover was excellent, and it was possible to see all the way to Gaza and the Mediterranean. It was not difficult to imagine Samson journeying between Tzora and the coastal plain, where he was to fall in love with yet another Philistine woman, Delilah.
Since the surroundings of Sweden Park are so beautiful, many holiday visitors choose to make their holiday barbeque here, seemingly oblivious to Samson's trials and tribulations. The Levi family from Rehovot was camping out under the shade of the carob tree near the first station of the Samson trail. "We're here together with our cousins from Givatayim," said Yishai Levi, the head of the family. "The truth is, although Samson had some bad times, he also had some good times, and he made a party here, just like it says in the Bible. So we are sort of like the guests at his banquet. I'm sure he wouldn't mind."
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