Light museums

Indoor activities for the winter holiday.

Haifa City Museum 520 (photo credit: Courtesy Haifa City Museum)
Haifa City Museum 520
(photo credit: Courtesy Haifa City Museum)

Schools usually have a few days’ break at Hanukka which gives the family a chance to get away together. However, it’s quite possible that you won’t want to spend your time outdoors so it’s a great opportunity to visit some of the fun and unusual museums that abound in Israel and are often overlooked.

1. Tel Aviv: Palmah Museum

This is one of the new-style museums, designed by Orit Shacham-Gover, in which the visitor follows a computer-controlled path and finds himself involved and watching events as they unfold at some important time in our recent history. Here at the Palmah Museum, seven recruits to the Palmah, the fighting force of the Hagana underground army in pre-state Israel, have just arrived on the boats from Holocaust-torn Europe.

We follow them through their training, stand in the forest and watch them singing around the bonfire, traipse with them through the hot desert, are attacked by the British while on an illegal refugee boat, jump in fright as the bridge we are standing on is blown up during the ‘Night of the Bridges’ and mourn with them as some are inevitably killed during the war. This section of the museum is an exciting visit on its own, but a new wing has been recently added.

Here you watch a film depicting the trauma that so many of the newly orphaned, homeless refugees faced as they were forced to ignore the hell they had just survived, forget their totally wiped-out families, and get on with their new life as soldiers.

Suppressing tears and reliving nightmares while having to face the often unsympathetic, brash sabras resulted in clashes that were sometimes violent and often excruciatingly painful. Visits to either section must be booked in advance.

10 Haim Levanon Street Tel: (03) 643-6393.

2. The Negev: The Museum of Beduin Culture

Tucked away in the Lahav Forest not far from Beersheba, you’ll find the Joe Alon Museum of Beduin Culture.

Because the nomadic, desert Beduin lifestyle is gradually dying out and giving way to high-rise apartments and hi-tech careers, the Beduin themselves have been collecting items from their traditional culture and donating them to the center so their own children and grandchildren, as well as others who have no Beduin background, will be able to see some of the rich heritage.

Through the displays and exhibitions you’ll learn how the tent was divided into men’s and women’s sections, the extreme importance of hospitality, even to the point of graciously accepting your enemy’s son and feeding and accommodating him. You’ll learn the significance of the embroidery on a woman’s dress and what it tells of her marital status, what toys children played with and the difference between the various different camels and their uses. You can also be hosted and served in a Beduin hospitality tent.

Lahav Forest, near Kibbutz Lahav. Tel: (08) 991-3322.

3. Haifa: The Doll Museum

A shopping mall is not a typical place to find a museum, but the Castra Shopping Center, at the entrance to Haifa, is not your typical shopping mall. It is a shopping and cultural center with several museums and art exhibitions spread among the supermarkets, clothes shops and restaurants.

The Doll Museum is the life work of Hungarian Magda Watts. Since her childhood she has loved making dolls and teaching and running doll-making workshops. This ability saved her life during the Holocaust when she was deported to Auschwitz.

The Nazis loved the dolls and as long as she made them and performed for the Nazis she was kept alive, and thus survived the war and came to Israel, where she has continued to make dolls and run workshops.

The museum is comprised of over 1,000 handmade dolls exhibited in 80 scenes from the Bible, Jewish festivals and lifestyle events such as bar mitzvas and weddings, and on to the recent history of modern-day Israel.

8 Fliman Street, Haifa. Tel: (04) 859-0001.

4. Safed: Beit Hameiri

Safed is mostly known for the 16th-century kabbalists who lived there and wrote many of the liturgical songs and halachic books that are still used today and whose distinctively decorated synagogues can still be found in its Old City.

One museum often overlooked in Safed is dedicated to the town’s last 200 years. Beit Hameiri was founded by Yechezkiel Meiri, a fifth-generation Safed resident who died in 1989.

The beautifully restored building, sitting on the edge of the Old City overlooking the Galilee hills and Mount Meron, has each floor devoted to a different aspect of life in Safed.

The ground-level floor, which is over 400 years old, contains living quarters, an old synagogue, and a mikve (ritual bath). The floors above were destroyed during the earthquakes of 1759 and 1837, but in around 1850 two large halls were built from the ruins, which were used for the Safed Rabbinical Court.

Safed’s first Hebrew school was set up on the floor above this, but it was closed down at the beginning of the 20th century due to hunger and disease. This house also played an important role in Safed’s fierce struggle for survival during the War of Independence, when the windows were sealed up and firing slots were cut to help defend the residents against the furious Arab attacks.

158 Keren Hayesod Street, Tel: (04) 697-1307.

5. Lake Kinneret: The Yigal Allon Center

Although Yigal Allon spent his adult life steeped in politics, serving as deputy prime minister, education minister and foreign affairs minister in his time with the Labor Party, at heart he was a man of the Galilee and a founder of Kibbutz Ginossar, where he is buried.

This museum is a fitting memorial to the man who loved the land he served. The center shows the history, landscape and cultures of the area throughout the centuries, including its heyday during mishnaic and talmudic periods when the Sanhedrin sat in nearby Tiberias. It also shows the life of a typical fishing village through the years. One of the most exciting finds on display is a firstcentury wooden boat that has become known as “the Jesus boat,” as it was almost certainly in use on the lake during his lifetime. It was discovered during a terrible drought when the level of the lake dropped dramatically, and the story of its complex and lengthy rescue and renovation can be seen in a film.

Kibbutz Ginossar. Tel: (04) 672-7700.