Walks in the woods

Anat Madmony's 'Israel's Forest Book' offers 40 scenic tours

Martyrs' Forest521 (photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
Martyrs' Forest521
(photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
South of Rehovot on Route 411 lies a small stand of trees called Hulda Forest. At the center of the 20-hectare site is a beautiful old house. In 1907 the site was taken over by the Jewish National Fund and two years later German agronomist Louis Barish was brought in to manage the project. The idea was to plant a forest and create a successful agricultural base consisting of olive trees. Barish also lavished money on the building of a house, which was named in honor of Theodor Herzl.
Remnants of the various schemes can be seen today in the rows of palm trees and leftover olive trees that perished over the years. The site also contains a well, silted up today, and other historical monuments. The Herzl house site was abandoned in the 1930s in favor of settling Jews at Kibbutz Hulda.
The house lay in ruins for decades and the forest was not maintained until a multimillion-dollar investment by the JNF was made in 1998. Today’s forest is the result, a beautiful spot for a picnic. In her Hebrew book Sefer Haye’arot (Israel’s Forest Book) produced by Israel’s main publisher of maps, Anat Madmony stresses that the best way to visit the place is a threehour circular hike. That can be nice, but when we visited it, a 20-minute car ride also worked.
Madmony’s beautifully designed book seeks to provide a guide to 40 of Israel’s major forests in a single volume.
It also has maps of an additional 11 mini-forests, like the one around the Herzl house. Each tour is presented in the same manner, with an explanation of the size of the forest, the different types of vehicles one can bring in and whether there is a fee to enter. The book doesn’t seek to provide an indepth history of the sites but rather a quick overview, since many of them are modern and were planted by the JNF.
The touring maps provide clearly marked trails and sites of interest so most serious hikers will not find that they need to bring more maps.
“What is a forest, really?” asks the author in her introduction. “Forests in Israel are not like those in the Amazon, but they are called forests anyway.”
The author notes that Israel has had a huge net increase in forests since its founding, with an additional 200 million trees and 90,000 hectares. Forestry represents one of the cornerstone achievements of the Zionist movement.
“The forests can be visited on Shabbat, on holidays, in summer and winter,” writes Madmony.
The book includes two forests in the Golan (Yehudiya and Adom) and one over the Green Line in the Jerusalem area (Pisgat Ze’ev).
In the West Bank there are more forests but most are not safe to visit for Israelis. Most of the forests highlighted are either in the lower Galilee between Afula and the Jordan river, or in the area west of Jerusalem. One of the most splendid is Aminadav Forest.
Starting at Even Sapir one can walk up the hill and visit several beautiful springs. Depending on the season these are full of water. Continuing on along the green or red marked trails brings one uphill to Moshav Aminadav. From the top one can see all the way to Betar Illit and the railroad tracks in the valley below Malha.
Another interesting forest in the Jerusalem area is the Martyrs’ Forest (Ya’ar Hakdoshim) and the nature reserve of the Masrek. These two sites, covering some 1,800 hectares, offer a pleasant circular hike near Moshav Beit Meir. A secondary tour also takes the walker to a pretty sheikh’s tomb and ruins near the moshav. Views are provided of the coastal plain. In spring the site is alive with flowers and greenery.
Israel’s Forest Book is a welcome addition to the numerous existing books on touring Israel. Since forests exist throughout the country and offer a variety of things to do, whether it is swimming or historical sites or bike riding, they cater to the whole family. In addition, they represent one of Israel’s greatest natural treasures and achievements.
Madmony’s work is a testament to this history. ■