Israel travels

Seven of the JNF’s best

North to south, an anniversary tour of exquisite JNF-assisted sites nationwide

Mitzpe Ramon Sculpture Gardens (photo credit: Shmuel Ba-Am)
Mitzpe Ramon Sculpture Gardens (photo credit: Shmuel Ba-Am)

Although it has taken more than a century, by now just about everyone knows that the Jewish National Fund does a lot more than plant trees. Indeed, when founded 112 years ago this week as the Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemet LeYisrael, its first mandate was the purchase of land in Palestine for Jewish settlement.

It soon became obvious, however, that the JNF had other crucial tasks to perform as well. For nearly a century the JNF has been planting trees, creating water supply systems, “greening” the desert, erecting monuments to fallen soldiers, and in the past decades has developed exquisite parks and stunning woodlands for public pleasure. As you drive through Israel today, it is almost impossible to pass a forest or a community that has not been helped in some way by the JNF.

Here are just a few. And they are free to all comers.

NORTH: Hurvat Dan’ila

Deep in the western Galilee, in the middle of a lush natural oak forest, the Jewish
National Fund uncovered ruins dating back 2,000 years. For an unusual winter outing, take your kids into the forest and let them stumble into an ancient city. Among the ruins they can explore at Hirbet Dan’ila are a wall, cisterns, and the winding streets of this long-ago village.

Dan'ila oil press (photo credit: Shmuel Ba-Am)
Dan’ila oil press (photo credit: Shmuel Ba-Am)

Several oil presses, partially restored, were found very close together. Apparently, the people who lived here during the Roman, Byzantine, Crusader and Mameluke eras operated a flourishing oil industry right next to their homes.

Have fun searching for crushing basins, weights, beams and other devices used in preparing olive oil.

To find Hurvat Dan’ila, take Route 899 east from Shlomi. About 100 meters east of Granot HaGalil, turn north with the sign for Nahal Srach. Drive an additional 100 meters and park in the large lot.

Andartat Habik’a (Valley Memorial)

In the late 1960’s, terrorists crossed into Israel by way of the Jordanian border and the Israeli army responded with reprisal raids. The area in the Jordan Valley where this action took place is called eretz hamirdafim (land of the pursuits).

Andartat Habik’a was inaugurated on November 25, 1972, in the heart of Eretz Hamirdafim. Rising 21 meters into the air atop a hill overlooking the Jordan Valley Road, the arresting monument is dedicated to soldiers who fell defending the Valley. You will find it on Highway 90 between Pezael Junction and Yafit.

On your way to the monument you drive through three enchanting groves with lush fruit trees, weeping willows and poplars. Park your car, then walk up to a balcony for a breathtaking view of the Jordan Valley.

CENTER: The Electricity Trail

Looking for a new and exciting place for your children (or grandchildren) to play?
Electric Way, a joint venture of the JNF and the Electric Company, perfectly fits the bill.

It all began several decades ago, when the Electric Company informed the JNF
that it intended on plowing through part of Ben Shemen Forest and adding rows and rows of electric lines.

Worried that the result would be nothing short of catastrophic, the JNF decided to work together with the company to beautify the ravaged area. Called Electric Way, the JNF solution was a wonderful park with all kinds of geometric designs, rock sculptures that children love to climb, playgrounds, picnic tables and an observation tower.

Look for signs along Route 443, about one kilometer east of Mitzpe Modi’in.

Martyrs’ Cave

During the Second Temple period Jews who passed away were buried in caves. Perhaps that’s why a somber memorial to the 6,000,000 Jews murdered in the Holocaust was carved out of the landscape’s naturally grey dolomite rock.

Called the B’nei Brith Martyrs’ Cave, it is found in the JNF’s Eshtaol Forest. To get there, follow Highway 38 from Sha’ar HaGai to Beit Shemesh. Turn left (east) on a marked dirt road just north of Eshtaol Junction.

En route to the Martyrs' Cave (photo credit: Shmuel Ba-Am)
En route to the Martyrs’ Cave (photo credit: Shmuel Ba-Am)

Your approach to the cave and the adjacent picnic area begins with a drive through an impressive stone arch. Memorial plaques containing the names of European communities wiped out in the Holocaust line the road. When you reach the cave and enter its dark tunnels (with a flashlight!), note the harsh contrast between the silent inner gloom and the brilliance of the wildflowers scattered on the ground nearby.

Alexandroni Monument

Today a multi-lane highway runs between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. But in May of 1948, it was only a narrow, winding road that ran, in part, next to the Ayalon Valley and beneath the hills of Latrun. Those hills were rampant with hostile Arabs determined to prevent food, water, medical supplies and weapons from reaching Jerusalem.

The Alexandroni Monument (photo credit: Shmuel Ba-Am)
The Alexandroni Monument (photo credit: Shmuel Ba-Am)

Some years ago, the JNF inaugurated a stirring monument to the troops of the Alexandroni Brigade who fell in a series of unsuccessful attempts to wrench control of Latrun out of Arab hands. Designed to resemble the walls of the Holy City, with deep red stripes that represent blood spilled during battles to liberate Jerusalem, the new monument is located in a forest near several picnic sites.

Take Highway 3, turn into Neve Shalom, and look for the sign.

SOUTH: Golda Park

Israel’s fourth Prime Minister, Golda Meir, was born on May 3 1898 and passed away in December of 1978. The first and only female prime minister in Israel, she was known as the Iron Lady long before the term was ever applied to England’s Margaret Thatcher. David Ben-Gurion once called Golda Meir the “only man in the Cabinet.”

Golda Park (photo credit: Shmuel Ba-Am)
Golda Park (photo credit: Shmuel Ba-Am)

The JNF dedicated one of its most delectable parks to this remarkable woman. The perfect venue for a winter’s outing, Golda Park is located in the Negev and offers nature lovers a shady spot for picnics, a short wilderness walk, an observation point with a wonderful view, and a sparkling, glistening lake.

To get there, take Highway 40 south of BeerSheva to Mash’abim Junction. Turn right (west) at the junction to Route 222. Golda Park is about one kilometer north on the right side of the road.

Mitzpe Ramon Desert Sculpture Park

Winter is the perfect time for a trip to Mitzpe Ramon. One favorite attraction is the JNF’s extraordinary Desert Sculpture Park, which runs for two kilometers along the edge of the Ramon Crater. It was born in 1963 when artists from all over the world were invited to create whatever took their fancy. All of them – from Cuban artist to Japanese sculptor – chiseled works out of one large rock. When environmentalism became popular in the ’80s, Israeli sculptors added works of their own.

Have a blast guessing what they are meant to be. Two large stones lean on one another with no artificial cement. Does this symbolize marriage? Your guess is as good as ours.


Aviva Bar-Am is the author of seven English-language guides to Israel.

Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed tour guide who provides private, customized tours in Israel for individuals, families and small groups.

All rights reserved.

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