THE SHOHAM FOREST ‘loyalists’ help keep the area one of the best cared-for nature reserves in the country..
(photo credit: RONI KINDERMAN AND ROEY BREFMAN)
Now that we’ve had a few good winter rains, it’s time to go for a hike out in nature and enjoy the beautiful blossoms and gushing streams. You don’t even have to drive all the way to the Galilee to find gorgeous waterfalls. There is a magical forest in central Israel that not too many people know about: Shoham Forest Park. Located adjacent to the city of Shoham in the Modi’in Region, Shoham Forest offers multiple recreational areas with picnic tables, endless seasonal flowers that are currently in full bloom, and lots of trails that are accessible to the whole family. There’s also an engaging archeological site where you can learn about communities that existed in the area in ancient times.
It’s easy to reach the forest, as it is right between Highway 6 and Road 444, just south of Modi’in’s industrial area. The Shoham Forest was planted by KKL-JNF, which endeavored to expand forest areas near Israeli urban centers. At the moment, the grounds of the forest are covered with anemones and cyclamens, which can be found poking out from underneath rocks and other shaded places. In addition to all the colorful flowers, the forest is also full of trees that are currently blossoming.
Shoham Forest is one of the best cared-for nature reserves in the country, thanks to a cadre of volunteers who call themselves “Shoham Forest Loyalists.” These volunteers take care of the area and make sure it is accessible to visitors. In an effort to encourage people to come spend time in the nature reserve, the loyalists have organized free guided tours in the forest every Shabbat at 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. during January and February. The meeting point is the Brassler parking area, one of the three parking areas with access to the park. For Shabbat observers, there will be additional tours on Fridays: January 11 and 25 and February 15 at 12:30 p.m.
During the tours, the guides will detail the interesting history of Shoham Forest, lead participants to the archeological remains and describe the flora and fauna that can be found in the forest. A couple of the stops of the tour include Saflulim Hill lookout point and an ancient Byzantine church. The 90-minute tour is suitable for the whole family and visitors are of course welcome to have a picnic and spend more time in the forest after the tour has ended.
If you prefer to walk around on your own, there are a number of sites that are worthwhile to visit, especially the St. Bacchus Byzantine church from the fourth century. According to archeologists, construction on the building began during the Iron Age and was still being added to during Ottoman rule. The church has a spectacular mosaic floor with geometric patterns and floral motifs and St. Bacchus’s name is engraved in Greek at the entrance.
Nearby, visitors can view agricultural tools that were used in ancient times, as well as a water pool that was hewn in the bedrock with steps leading down. The church was discovered by chance in the mid-1990s when the KKL-JNF was preparing the ground to plant trees in the area. At that point, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) became involved in order to protect the valuable findings.
The site was closed to the public for a number of years as it was being prepared, and now the church compound is operated by a joint effort of the Shoham Local Council, IAA and KKL-JNF. There is handicap access from the parking lot, and stops along the path have audio explanations.
In addition to the remarkable church, you can also go see the ancient olive press and the water cistern. The olive press was unusually large, consisting of four rooms. During excavations, archaeologists uncovered a round marble medallion with the figure of the goddess Tyche carved onto it. In the image, Tyche is wearing a crown and holding a cornucopia and a scepter. This unique medallion is now on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem as part of its permanent collection.
Another point of interest that should not be skipped over is Saflulim Hill. “Saflul” is Hebrew for cupule, or a circular man-made hollow on the surface of a rock. Not surprisingly, there are many such large and small hollows on Saflulim Hill. Some sources believe that these holes that were hewn in the stone were made by ancient peoples for the purposes of carrying out animal sacrifices.
A lookout was built on top of the hill in memory of Guy Sudai, from which you have a panoramic view of the Shoham Forest. In the orchards below you can see pomegranate, olive, fig, almond and carob trees. You can climb down the hill and walk through the orchards.
The Israel National Trail crosses through Shoham Forest and attracts many cyclists who like to ride from Tel Aviv all the way to Jerusalem. The part of this biking path that runs through Shoham Forest is 9.5 kilometers long and is medium difficulty.
Directions: Drive on Highway 1 and exit at Lod Intersection toward Petah Tikva. At El Al Intersection, turn right onto Road 453 and drive to the end. At Beit Nehemya, turn left onto Road 444. Then, turn right into the Modi’in industrial area and then right into Shoham Forest.
If you decide not to participate in the guided tour and instead prefer walk the trail on your own, follow the green signs for Derech Hapark until you reach a large map of the park. You can see Saflulim Hill from that spot. Keep driving along the winding road until you reach the parking area. From there, follow the trail that starts at the northern end of the parking area and leads to Horvat Tinshemet.
When you’ve finished the visit to Horvat Tinshemet, continue driving until you reach the next junction, where you should turn left. At the next junction after that, turn right into the Yossi Bressler parking area. From there, you can walk along the easy trail that leads to the southern section of the park where you’ll cross an orchard of trees and finally reach the foot of Saflulim Hill.Translated by Hannah Hochner.
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