Book review: Making Israel fun for the young

A guide can take touring the Holy Land to new heights

August 8, 2019 10:12
3 minute read.
Book review: Making Israel fun for the young

Kayaking in Israel.. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Without proper planning, traveling around Israel with children can be a bust. Aileen Kirschenbaum, author of Take Your Kids to Israel: A Guide to Family Fun in the Holy Land, has been traveling to Israel with her family from their home in Plainview, NY, for 30 years. Although she doesn’t say whether she has personally visited each of the hundreds of sites mentioned in this book, it’s clear she wants to encourage everyone in the family, from toddlers to grandparents, to fall in love with Israel.

She explains her approach in the guidebook’s introduction: “Our philosophy when traveling with children is to create a positive experience for children of all ages so that they would want to return at the earliest opportunity. They should develop a love and deep connection to the land and people of Israel. Details of history will come at their desired pace.”

Her first guidebook, Take Your Kids to Israel (Places to Visit on and off the Beaten Path) was published in 2009. This updated edition is equally comprehensive and includes more than 100 full-color photos.

As with the first edition, Kirschenbaum organized the book by region. The listings themselves are relatively brief; most are no longer than 10 sentences. For each suggested activity, she includes insider tips, like what time of day is best to visit and for what ages the site is most appropriate. Wherever possible, Kirschenbaum includes the site’s address, phone number and website. When relevant, specific contact people are named and Kirschenbaum lets you know whether reservations are necessary.

As with standard tour books, Take Your Kids to Israel: A Guide to Family Fun in the Holy Land includes some basic travel information. This is far from the strongest section of the book, and her advice might frustrate readers with its lack of specificity. For example, she suggests that families consider renting a vacation apartment instead of staying in a hotel. She lists the advantages and disadvantages of doing so, but doesn’t provide any guidance about where to begin searching online for suitable accommodations.

The book, geared for English-speaking families, could also be improved with more information about the specific availability of English tours and films at sites that offer them in multiple languages. For example, the Kfar Etzion Heritage Center in Gush Etzion has an English screening once a day, but the time differs depending on the day. That would be vital for travelers to know so they don’t arrive, disappointed to learn that they missed the only English screening of the day.

To her credit, Kirschenbaum does encourage families to do their homework, using her book as a starting point, and she does emphasize that people should call ahead wherever they plan to go. Readers will find Kirschenbaum’s heimish touch pleasant, particularly when, in her role as a Jewish mother, she reminds visitors to always carry water and bring lots of sunscreen.

One of the book’s best features is the section listing day-long itineraries. For 12 regions in Israel, Kirschenbaum suggests how a family might structure a day trip to that region. Each of the itineraries includes three or four sites, some with multiple options, so that families can tailor the day trip depending on their preferences and the ages of their children. The formatting in this section is a little inconsistent, but the ideas are valuable.

At under 200 pages, Take Your Kids to Israel: A Guide to Family Fun in the Holy Land is a small paperback that is easy to bring along. Published by the somewhat quirky Ben Yehuda Press of Teaneck, NJ, it has the look and feel of a self-published book. But don’t let that be a deterrent.

If you’ve never been to Israel before, this modest volume will introduce you to hundreds of sites, from the very well-known, like the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City and Independence Hall on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, to activities like clementine picking at Kfar Netter near Caesarea and the Hugga Water Park at Kibbutz Hamadia near Beit She’an that are so far off the beaten path, most locals don’t even know about them.

Although Kirschenbaum wrote this guidebook for families, there are plenty of offerings here that are absolutely appropriate for adults traveling without children. Similarly, although the book is marketed primarily to families living outside of Israel, English-speaking residents of Israel will also find it to be a treasury of fresh ideas for how to spend time exploring their adopted homeland.

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