Sunny, with a chance of fun

Take advantage of the seasonable weather with a range of outdoor activities.

Beit She'an (photo credit: Ann Goldberg)
Beit She'an
(photo credit: Ann Goldberg)
After a blessedly wet winter, the sun is pushing its way through, as it always does around Passover. It’s time to dust off your sports shoes, maps, water bottles and picnic baskets and head for the outdoors.
This is an ideal season for visiting the Jordan Valley, which has been renamed the Valley of Springs, as later on in the year it can be uncomfortably hot.
1. Beit She’an
If you haven’t visited the Beit She’an National Park in recent years, treat yourself to a visit now. Four hundred acres of magnificent excavations and architectural reconstructions show a mere 10 percent of this city’s past glory through many civilizations. It was always important, militarily and economically, due to its position at a major crossroads.
One of the most impressive sites in the park is the 7,000-seat Roman theater from the first century CE.
You’ll also see two Byzantine bathhouses with many sections of intact mosaics and rooms of hot stones with explanatory drawings on the walls explaining how visitors used the various rooms and sections of the complex.
You can also visit the equivalent of a Byzantine mall, although you won’t find anything to buy there today.
“Palladius Street” has been excavated and partially reconstructed and shows the main shopping area of the town. There are a large number of columns, colonnades and Corinthian capitals that can still be seen lying around among the discoveries.
If it’s not too hot, it’s worth climbing to the top of the tel (archeological mound) to get a feeling of how strategic a position the city held.
The site is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. A special vehicle is available for the physically challenged. For further information call (04) 658-7189.
2. Bio-tour at Sde Eliyahu
The idea of a farm used to conjure up pictures of a healthy outdoor life with clean air and freshly picked produce. But in today’s world, that has changed due to widespread use of poisonous pesticides.
Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in the Jordan Valley has turned back the clock and offers visitors a bio-tour of their organic farming methods, complete with explanations and stories. One of the kibbutz’s founding members couldn’t bear the fact that his grandchildren were now breathing and eating poison from the fields and decided to try to farm a pesticide-free field of produce. The first years were disastrous until he worked out how to combat the pests. Now the kibbutz uses natural biological pest control, including predators such as owls, falcons and bats. The owls have been known to eat 1,000 mice a month. The kibbutz has also set up the Bio-Bee factory, which produces insects that are beneficial to agriculture and friendly to humans.
The kibbutz exports both its produce and its expertise all over the world. On the tour, you’ll visit the organic vineyards, date orchard, vegetable garden and fish farm. The religious kibbutz aims to grow all seven species for which the Land of Israel is praised in the Torah – wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates – as well as lulavim and etrogim. Its shop/restaurant, Café Basadeh, will be open for drinks and snacks and sells the kibbutz’s produce, which is certified kosher for Passover. Lunch (without kitniyot – legumes) can be pre-ordered from the kibbutz dining room.
Tours, which last about two hours, must be booked in advance. The kibbutz is closed to visitors on Shabbatot and holidays. For more information, (04) 609-6986.
3. Tower and Stockade at Nir David
On nearby Kibbutz Nir David there’s a carefully reconstructed model of the Tower and Stockade settlement of Tel Amal, which predated the present kibbutz. Tel Amal was the first of 50 such fortified settlements, which were put up around the country overnight to surprise the Arabs and avoid attacks by marauders during the Arab riots of 1936 to 1939. Speed and surprise were the most important elements, so the fortifications were made in prefabricated wooden sections on the neighboring kibbutz, Beit Alfa, including a double defense wall, which was filled with gravel to absorb bullets. The tower was transported whole, ready to be hoisted up in the center of the settlement. Dozens of volunteers helped to set up the entire compound in a number of hours.
You can see the small buildings, the living quarters, the utensils they used and newspaper cuttings from the time and you can also watch a film about prestate Israel and the dangers and obstacles the pioneers had to overcome.
The site is open Sunday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Friday 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Telephone (04) 658-6219.
4. Mazkeret Batya
Baron Edmund de Rothschild’s contribution to the early settlements in Israel is well-documented and preserved, and Mazkeret Batya (named after the baron’s mother), is today probably the most picturesque of these settlements. The main road of the village has been preserved and reconstructed and appears to have been frozen in time. The buildings of the baron’s old headquarters have been turned into a museum that tells the story of this village, one of the most successful of his projects, as all the original religious settlers were experienced farmers and knew crops to sow where and how.
The old water wheel has been reconstructed, as have the old well and water storage pool. The original synagogue has been preserved and now houses the local council. In 1928, the Baron built a beautiful, ornate synagogue at the end of the main road, which is the focal point of the village and is still in use today.
5. Ayelet Hashahar
If your children are looking for some action over the holidays, then head north to Ayelet Hashahar. No matter what their definition of “action” is, they’ll find something that will increase their level of adrenalin.
On the ground they’ll find licensed instructors awaiting them at the firing range with weapons to suit children of all ages from five years and up. Slightly less violent but just as much fun is paintball, a colorful, strategic game that has gathered popularity in Israel over the last few years.
If you want to “lose” the kids for a while, drop them off at the maze and see how long it takes them to find you while you relax in the forest or on the lawn.
The long, winding pedal cart track will give them more entertainment or, for something more unusual, they can try their hand at Olympic archery.
There are jeep tours to take you up the hills and down into the valley, but if the ground is too quiet for you, you can hop aboard a flight around the area or even go skydiving if you’re looking for serious adventure.
During Hol Hamoed, the activities will be open from 8:30 a.m. until nightfall. All aerial activities must be booked in advance. Other activities can be enjoyed without prior booking but you may have to wait. It’s worth booking ahead for everything if you know your schedule. (04) 693-2226.
6. The Salad Trail
This is also an ideal time of year to visit the Negev before the temperature gets any higher. Uri Allon, an expert in international agriculture, has set up The Salad Trail on his moshav, Talmei Yosef, in the northern Negev. He gives tours to groups of visitors and explains his hi-tech methods for growing produce.
You’ll visit greenhouses and hear explanations of why tomatoes grow up from the ground while strawberries grow in the air; learn about essential oils in the herbal greenhouse; and be able to pick and eat the fruits and vegetables straight from the field as you walk.
If it’s the right season, you’ll see carrots that are not only orange but also white, purple and green and, at any time of the year, you’ll have fun sending old-fashioned messages via homing pigeon. Allon intersperses his agricultural stories with stories of his life and love of the country, and after a visit you’ll understand why it’s a “must” stop for Birthright tours even though, for some reason, it’s not so well-known among the local population.
The tour is suitable for all ages but must be booked in advance. 052-853-5442 or (08) 998-2225.