Festive family forays

There are so many fascinating places to visit during the holiday. Just take your pick.

Tasting tomatoes (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tasting tomatoes
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After a month or more of our inhaling bleach and other noxious cleaning products, Passover has arrived. Now we owe it to ourselves to get out and enjoy the fresh air and beautiful spring weather.
It’s the time of year when it’s warm enough to enjoy a day out in the sun without constantly looking for shade, although it’s always best to be safe and take a hat and bottles of water.
Here are some ideas for enjoying a day out.
But before you set off, always check with each site for prices and specific opening hours during Passover.
Would you like to be the guest of the king and queen at a kosher medieval banquet in the halls of the Knights Hospitaller Fortress? If so, head to Acre on Thursday, April 13. Actors will entertain you throughout your meal right up to dessert, when you can watch knights joust with each other on horseback.
Tickets must be purchased in advance from knightshow.co.il/cartis.html
If you can’t make it to the banquet, there is plenty to see in Acre on any day. It is one of the most multicultural, multi-era cities in Israel. It’s a one-stop history lesson, where you can see remains (some reconstructed) from the eras of the Crusaders, Mamelukes, Byzantines and Romans and others who ruled the city for a time.
During the reign of the Turks, the local hammam (bathhouse) was where all the political intrigues and plots were planned. As you walk from room to room in the reconstructed hammam, a sound and light show will allow you to listen in on machinations of the ancient politicians.
Crusader fortresses are said to be escape-proof, which is probably why the British chose it as a prison for Israel’s pre-state underground fighters during the Mandate. But if you watch the film shown in the prison, you’ll see how they were proven wrong in 1947 during the historic break-out.
More than 1,000 mice have been eaten by a flock of owls on Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, a religious community in the Jordan Valley. The owls are part of the kibbutz’s natural biological pest-control methods for growing organic produce without the use of toxic pesticides.
The kibbutz members were pioneers in organic farming in Israel, which was started by a founding member of the kibbutz who was horrified at the thought of how much poison was being ingested by his grandchildren from their “healthy” agricultural produce. In the course of their experiments to see what worked as natural pesticides, they set up a factory called Bio-Bee, which produces insects that cause no harm to humans but are beneficial for agriculture. Their success has been so great that their insects and expertise are exported worldwide.
The organic fields  (Courtesy) The organic fields (Courtesy)
A tour of Sde Eliyahu will discuss life on a religious kibbutz, explain what organic farming is, and show you how they use biological pest control.
Tours must be booked in advance at (04) 609-6986. Tours are not available on Shabbat and holidays but are open during hol hamoed from 8 a.m. until an hour before dark.
KFAR KEDEM – Hoshaya (Galilee)
In this small village in the heart of the hills of the Galilee, the Bible and the Mishna come alive. If you visit during hol hamoed, after being outfitted in appropriate clothing you’ll experience leaving Egypt just as our ancestors did many years ago. As part of the preparations for leaving, you’ll learn how to turn milk into cheese and wool into cloth (including shearing the sheep). Then you’ll load up the donkeys and walk out of the farm on your way to freedom.
For the past 25 years, Kfar Kedem has been connecting Israeli children with their heritage, teaching them to sow, plow and harvest wheat, pick olives and press them into oil and to milk cows and make cheese, all the while telling the children stories about their greatgreat- great-grandparents and how they lived their lives.
To book a visit, call (04) 656-5511.
KIBBUTZ GESHER, Naharayim (Jordan Valley)
Like so many places in Israel, the layers of centuries fall over each other at Kibbutz Gesher. The word gesher (bridge) refers to the remnants of three bridges dating as far back as Roman times, through the Turkish era when it was an important point on the Haifa- Damascus railway and one from the British Mandate dating from 1925.
Its strategic position made it one of the first settlements to be attacked in 1948 during the War of Independence. In the old bunkers, which have been turned into a museum, you can hear the miraculous stories of how this small kibbutz with 120 members managed to withstand attack after attack.
At the Naharayim Experience, you’ll see and hear the sounds of Israel’s first start-up hydroelectric power plant set up by Pinchas Rutenberg. It operated from 1932 until 1948, harnessing the waters from the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers. The model of the plant shows exactly how it worked and provided inexpensive electricity, as well as employment, for hundreds of people.
During Passover there are special activities for children. When you arrive, you’ll be given a map and clues with a quiz. Answering the questions will take you from point to point inside Kibbutz Gesher and through its history.
For more details, call (04) 675-3336.
MIKVE YISRAEL (near Holon)
Sometimes it’s good to go back in time and remember what life was like for the first pioneers who arrived here more than 100 years ago. It makes you appreciate just how far we’ve come.
Mikve Yisrael isn’t a museum. Even today, it is still a youth village and boarding school for students from all backgrounds and religions and plays an important role in absorbing young immigrants.
The renovated synagogue (Ronen Kook)The renovated synagogue (Ronen Kook)
In 1870 it was established by Charles of from the French organization Alliance Israélite Universelle as the first Jewish agricultural school in Palestine. Many of the county’s early military and political personalities were trained there, as were the founders of most of the kibbutzim and moshavim. It played a significant role in the War of Independence as both a hideout for secret military training and the development ground for David Lebovitz’s Davidka mortar which made a lot of noise, did little damage but frightened the daylights out of the enemy.
One of the most beautiful and impressive buildings on the campus is the renovated synagogue, which is in daily use.
On Wednesday and Thursday, April 12 and 13, there will be guided tours of the campus showing the various aspects of this school. You’ll enjoy all the humorous and heroic stories that accompany a visit to a place that played such a pivotal role in our nation’s history.
To join a tour or arrange a visit, call (03) 503-0489.
Spanning 620 acres, Neot Kedumim, the only biblical landscape reserve in the world, takes you back to farming and living in ancient Israel. The best way to enjoy your visit is to take one of the two guided Passover trails, both of which are suitable for strollers and wheelchairs.
The shorter trail covers Ruth’s Threshing Floor (learn about Neot Kedumim’s early days and barley harvesting) and The Lion’s Cistern (draw water from its depths and learn why a cistern is such a good water source).
The longer trail will take you along The Pine Tree Benches trail, with its delightful fragrance, Rivka’s Cistern and the Cedar Tree Succa (find out about the hyssop mentioned in the story of the Exodus).
Arts and crafts tables, a Tour Train, a 20-minute performance of A Tale of Two Brothers, demonstrations of ancient agricultural implements, sheep shearing and building with mud bricks will help enrich your Passover visit.
For more details, call (08) 977-0762.
The Valley of the Springs is one of the most beautiful areas of the country at this time of year now that the winter rains have turned the landscape into a multicolored carpet. It is perfect for a nature walk or ride.
You can rent a bicycle or green (electric) vehicle or take an internal shuttle bus and get off at one of the stops across the park’s 15 km. of paved paths and admire the heritage sites, fish ponds and migrating birds.
If it’s warm enough, you can take a dip in one of the many streams.
For more details about activities in the park, call (04) 648-8060.
The Valley of the Springs is home to other activities:
This is the only park outside Australia where you can wander among kangaroos and pet and feed them. Now you can also see some koalas hiding in the trees. It took a long period of preparation until the Australians were convinced that the park managers were capable of taking care of koalas, as these animals need very specific food and living conditions that it was thought could not exist outside Australia.
The Nature and Animal Festival:
This event takes place in Gan-Garoo from April 12 to 14. Children receive a map of the area when they arrive and can become a Nature Researcher and follow the clues on a quiz that will teach them all about the behavior and capabilities of animals and the characteristics of plants and trees that are indigenous to the Australian continent. They’ll have fun copying the noise each animal makes and even try to imitate its way of walking/jumping or crawling. They’ll find out the purpose of the kangaroo’s pouch and how it helps the baby kanga. They’ll also learn which other animals have pouches. Guides will be on hand to help them do various arts and crafts in connection with what they’re discovering and answer the many questions that arise from naturally inquisitive children.
Razer in the Hidden Valley:
If you’ve always wanted to drive a Kawasaki Razer (the ultimate ATV), your dream can come true in the Valley of the Springs, where you can disappear from the daily grind for a few hours and take off into the heights of Mount Gilboa, along streams and rivers and open countryside. Groups of cars with a guide set off several times a day during Passover. Drivers must be over 21 and have at least one year’s driving experience (bring your driver’s license).
Kawasaki Razers (Courtesy)Kawasaki Razers (Courtesy)
Children over age three can be passengers (with a booster seat).
For all the conditions, times and prices and to make a reservation (advance registration is a must), call (04) 648-8060 or 050-715-2231.
THE SALAD TRAIL – Moshav Talmei Yosef (in the Negev)
If you thought that all carrots were orange, then you’re in for a surprise when you see the white, yellow and purple carrots that agronomist Uri Alon grows in Talmei Yosef in the northern Negev. But that isn’t the only thing you’ll learn when you accompany him along his Salad Trail. You’ll see some giant bees hovering above the climbing tomato plants (and find out why they’re there), as well as tiny peppers and cucumbers. And you’ll be able to pick and eat some of these intriguing plants. Growing and using medicinal herbs and oils will all be explained.
Plus you can match wits with the other participants in the passion-fruit maze, hunting for the treasure.
What did we do before e-mail? We attached messages to homing pigeons. You’ll also be able to try that yourself here on the moshav.
A tour in English will take place on Thursday, April 13, at 10:30 a.m. To book a place and for information about other tours, call (08) 998-2225.
SARINA CHOCOLATE WORKSHOPS – Moshav Ein Vered (near Netanya)
Most children love chocolate, so a visit to Sarina Chocolates in Moshav Ein Vered would be a real treat. They’ll not only have hands-on fun making various chocolate delights but will also learn about the origins of chocolate and the different uses for dark and milk chocolate. All the chocolate workshops are done under supervision of several assistants, so parents need not accompany their children but can relax in another part of the visitors’ center. But if they want to, they are welcome to go to the workshop and observe the proceedings. The chocolate used in the workshop has a kosher-for-Passover certification.
Sarina’s manager Limor Drucker grows her own cocoa trees, a first in Israel. They are being cultivated under specially controlled conditions, and she hopes one day to be able to use her own home-grown cocoa to make chocolate from scratch instead of importing it from Europe. Visitors can see the cocoa trees and learn about the many challenges involved in growing them.
The chocolate workshop must be booked in advance at 077-525-5370.
RAMAT HANADIV (outside Zichron Ya’acov)
The beautifully tended gardens at Ramat Hanadiv were originally built as a memorial garden and final resting place for Baron Edmond de Rothschild and his wife, Ada, when they were reburied in Israel as the baron had requested in his will. Their mausoleum is housed in a secluded corner surrounded by fountains and streams of water. In this area you’ll see various plants grouped together, with benches on which to sit and relax and enjoy the surroundings. For the visually impaired, there is a special area where the plants can be recognized by their delightful perfume.
There is another, much larger and wilder area of Ramat Hanadiv. It is part of the Israel Trail, which is celebrating its third decade together with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. Passover and spring are the perfect time to enjoy the colorful flowers, the woodlands and the trees. Along the various paths you’ll see occasional archeological finds, such as an ancient bathhouse and a Byzantine villa.
As part of the anniversary celebrations, on Wednesday and Thursday, April 12 and 13, actors and musicians will entertain as you walk around, and there will be other activities and surprises as you amble through the woodlands.
The Visitors Pavilion will screen a short film every half hour in various languages according to requests.
Everything at Ramat Hanadiv is free of charge. For more details, call (04) 629-8111.