Nearly 20 years after relocating with her family from the urban sprawl of Jerusalem to the breathtaking Judean desert landscape of Ma’aleh Adumim just 15 minutes away, Shelley Brinn asked herself a question: “Why isn’t this place a tourist destination?” Enamored by the growing city’s picturesque beauty, recreational activities, artistic community, cultural offerings, and religious and historic sites, Brinn (the wife of The Jerusalem Post’s managing editor, David Brinn) and close friend Tali Frank Horwitz began discussing a future where Ma’aleh Adumim would join Israel’s mosaic of must-see attractions.
Mentioned in the Book of Joshua as the border between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, the Adumim region – which includes the smaller communities of Kfar Adumim, Nofei Prat, Alon and Mitzpe Yeriho – has a surprising number of activities.
Indeed, with its numerous nature preserves, waterfalls, museums, archeological and religious sites, artists’ studios, and even a new manmade lake – all buffeted by recreational and sporting offerings in the desert – the potential seemed vast, if not untapped.
Meanwhile, Brinn and Frank Horwitz watched in frustration as countless prospective visitors and tour buses passed by on Route 1 to the nearby Dead Sea or Tel Aviv, not realizing the significance of the relatively new hillside city.
“We asked ourselves how it was possible that people living as close as Jerusalem were not familiar with the amazing activities available here, as well as the breathtaking desert views,” Brinn said over coffee in Jerusalem this week.
Brinn added that eight years ago, while working as a project manager for English-speaking families preparing to make aliya to the city and observing their strong reactions to it, she was confident their vision of turning Ma’aleh Adumim into a tourist attraction would succeed.
“Every family that I took around would just be dumbstruck and amazed by how beautiful the area was,” she said. “They would point out all the different sites and places, and were blown away by how much there is to do.”
“So I kept thinking to myself,” she continued, “if this is the reaction of people coming from abroad, then there is a market here.”
Still, Brinn and Frank Horwitz knew they had to overcome formidable obstacles, not the least of which was that Ma’aleh Adumim has never been viewed as a traditional tourist attraction.
“Even people living in Jerusalem barely know there are things to do in the area, and that’s the idea behind it: to open up people’s minds, and for them to realize that so close to their home is this treasure of cultural and nature sites and activities and art galleries,” Brinn said.
A New Jersey native who made aliya in 1985, the married mother of four estimates that there are 40,000 residents in Ma’aleh Adumim, 50 percent of whom are under 18, “with the number growing all the time.”
After working as much as possible with the local municipality, and then testing the waters by leading numerous trips for groups of all ages and interests for nearly one year, Brinn and Frank Horwitz officially launched Tour Adumim in November.
The nascent enterprise offers an array of custom-tailored activities and tours for English-speaking groups of all backgrounds, ranging from outdoor recreation for families, museum and art-studio tours, camel rides in the desert, and religious tours, to survival training exercises supervised by ex-IDF commanders.
“As a veteran resident of the area, I work with the local sites and tourist services to coordinate prices, times and activities, while keeping an eye on the needs of my clients,” Brinn said. “I also offer a forum of speakers and tour guides for each group’s individualized interests.”
Utilizing a newly launched website and Facebook page, she hopes that the many customized family-friendly packages she put together for groups of up to 50 will take Tour Adumim to the next level.
Accordingly, to celebrate Passover, on April 8 Brinn has planned a special event called “Four Fun Activities for Families at Adumim.”
One activity, she said, includes a children’s program at the Moshe Castel Museum of Art, where kids take on various challenges, including an artthemed scavenger hunt, and learn the concepts inherent to Castel’s celebrated artwork.
A second activity includes a family nature walk in one of the area’s many valleys, where a guide will point out various fauna, trees, flowers and desert landscapes endemic to the region.
“The third activity is really cool for older kids between 12 and 18,” she said with a smile. “It’s called ODT, or outdoor training, and entails army simulation where participants put on uniforms and undergo pre-army training exercises in the main park.”
For the fourth activity, Brinn said children and their parents can visit a local guitar factory, where the two Israeli owners show visitors how they make custom-built guitars out of wood, including mahogany and maple, and then host a sing-along for the families.
With low prices ranging from NIS 20 to NIS 65 per person, Brinn said she hopes affordable rates will provide families with hours of fun without breaking the bank.
“We try to keep the prices reasonable, especially since it’s for families and things get expensive over vacation times,” she explained.
Meanwhile, other standard packages include Bible-themed bar and bat mitzva tours featuring a ceremony in the Judean Desert; tours for Jewish organizations to ancient landmarks; a nature lovers’ program featuring swimming, meditation and tai chi sessions, as well as shepherding, hiking or walks; and a Christian tour of ancient Byzantine monasteries and the Good Samaritan Museum, including a mosaic workshop led by local experts.
Additionally, Tour Adumim offers special “boutique programs,” including “Artistry in Adumim,” where visitors meet with accomplished artists living in the area, and “A Musical Morning,” where groups meet with four local acclaimed musicians and learn about the instruments they play and tour the Ma’aleh Adumim Music Conservatory.
Tours of the area’s celebrated industrial park are also available, where visitors can hear the Soda Stream story and meet with CEOs of international enterprises located there. Groups can also discuss with local residents the realities of living over the Green Line, and talk with Beduin and Palestinians who work in Ma’aleh Adumim.
Moreover, groups can meet with Ethiopian, Moroccan and Iranian residents of the city and learn about their cultures.
Ethnic cooking classes are also available, Brinn added.
“It’s all about the logistics,” she said.
“I basically customize the tours based on the group’s desires and needs.”
Ultimately, Brinn said, she believes that increased exposure to her beloved community will offer Israelis and visitors from abroad another beautiful destination to choose from among the country’s many vaunted tourist sites.
“I think this will give people the idea: Hey, there’s a lot to do in Ma’aleh Adumim. It’s a beautiful city, why not come and visit?” she said.To sign up for Passover packages or learn more about Tour Adumim, go to www.touradumim.com