Yesterday I finished up a really fun 3 day tour of Biblical sites in the Jerusalem area with the Husmann family from the Netherlands. Benjamin contacted me a couple of months ago via twitter to plan three days that would be meaningful for him and his wife Shifra as well as fun and engaging for his three small kids Daniel, Naomi and Ezra. The Husmanns are not Jewish but feel very connected to the Tanach as well as the Land and People of Israel. Here’s what we did
Old City Jerusalem Tour
On our first day together we did a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem. We visited the ruin of the ‘broad wall’ built by Hezekiah. We learned about how the Jewish Quarter actually sits on the original expansion of Jerusalem done by King Hezekiah in preparation for an Assyrian siege.
The Temple Institute
Next we did a tour in the Temple Institute’s new exhibition. They have recently moved their visitor’s center adjacent to the Moriah bookshop in the Old City. The new exhibition is much roomier and nicer. We got to see the vessels that they have created for use in the Third Temple and learn about the history of the Temple and the Mishkan.
The Wohl Museum
One of my favorite sites to take people in the Old City are the underground excavations of the mansions of Kohanim from the Second Temple. You can really understand how they lived their lives in those days. It gives you a peek into the division of society that existed when the Temple was destroyed.
We had a lunch break in the Jewish Quarter center where there are many restaurants to choose from.
We finished our short tour of the Old City with a visit to the Kotel. We learned about why the Kotel is so important and took some time to pray there and put notes in the wall.
One of the things that the Husmanns wanted to do on their tour in Israel was to visit an “outpost settelment”. They constantly hear all of the propaganda about the settlements in the news in Europe. They were very eager to visit such a hilltop settlement and see the truth with their own eyes. I took them to Tekoa Dalet, a hilltop outpost with stunning views of the Judean Desert that is an extension of Tekoa.
We spent an hour with Shira and Shimon Palmer who very graciously hosted us and told us about their life in this unique place. You may have heard about Shimon’s brother Asher and nephew Yonatan who were killed by an Arab who threw rocks at their vehicle. The Palmers told us about their struggle dealing with this tragedy and their hopes for a better future.
Biblical Sites in the Shefela
On the second day we headed to the Beit Shemesh area for a tour of Biblical sites in the Shefela. Here is what we did:
David and Goliath – Tel Azeka
We started out by ascending Tel Azeka, the site of the Biblical city of Azekah. According to the Tanach, the battle of David and Goliath took place between Azeka and Socho. From the top of the hill you can see the Elah Valley where the battle took place. We spent some time reading the story from the Tanach and pointing out all of the places mentioned in the story like the site of Socho and the stream that David took the 5 smooth stones from.
Afterward we walked around the Tel a bit to see the archaeological excavations that are ongoing at the site. We saw a carob tree there and tasted the hard, but sweet pods that grow on it. We learned about the importance of this tree in Jewish history.
We stopped for a picnic lunch in British forest where there were playgrounds for the kids.
Samson’s Home Town – Tel Tzorah
Next we headed over to Tel Tzorah site of the city that was home to Samson. We saw remnants of the Jewish village that stood there in the time of the Judges. From there you can look down to the coast and see many of the places mentioned in the Samson story in the Bible such as Tel Batash – thought to be Biblical Timna where Samson met his first Philistine wife and Gaza where he died bringing down the Temple of Dagon on the Philistines. The kids got to crawl in caves and run around the Tel.
Where the Ark was returned from the Philistines – Tel Beit Shemesh
Finally we visited Tel Beit Shemesh. Beit Shemesh is mentioned dozens of times in the Tanach. The most famous story is how the Ark was returned from the Philistines after having been captured by them. We saw the fields where the people were busy with the harvest when the saw the Ark being returned.
We walked through the area that was the cemetery of the people of Beit Shemesh. There you see ancient burial tombs which were used by the Jews 3,000 years ago.
Next we climbed up to the Tel to see the ruins of the Israelite homes. The highlight is the gigantic water cistern that was one of the main sources of the water for the people of Beit Shemesh. We climbed in with our flashlights to see the cistern and cool off from the heat.
A tour in the Shomron
Day three was in the Shomron. I think this was the most fun day of the three for the kids. Here’s what we did:
Nachal Prat – Wadi Kelt
30 Minutes from Jerusalem, in the middle of the Judean Desert, there is an amazing oasis of running water called Wadi Kelt or Nachal Prat in Hebrew. We drove through the barren landscape of the desert on the Alon Road till we came to the parking area. We hiked down to the bottom of the ravine where we reached the Mabua spring, one of the sources of the water that runs in the Nachal Prat year round.
The fresh water is great for the kids to play in. The wildlife also loves it! We saw frogs, lizards, butterflies, many types of birds and fish as well as many different types of plants and wildflowers. We saw an Eshel or Tamerisk tree. This tree is amazing because it can live in salty areas. It survives by excreting the salt out its foliage. We broke off a small piece and could taste the salt crystals on its leaves! There was also a mulberry tree there with ripe berries that we ate. It is amazing to see how much life can exist in the middle of the desert if you just add a bit of water!
After the kids played in the water for an hour or so we did a short hike for half an hour along the bank of the stream. We came across wild mustard and broke off the flowers to taste the mustardy taste.
Lunch at Shifon Bakery
After hiking back up to the car in the heat, we were pretty worn out so we headed over the the Shaar Binyamin Shopping center where we had our lunch stop. There they have a large supermarket as well as a pizza place and burger place. But the highlight is the Shifon Bakery. People come from all around for their excellent baked goods which include artisan breads, pastries of all kinds, pizzas, cookies and much more. They also make good coffee and offer other lunch options like Shakshuka, falafel and more.
Beit El – Where Israel was promised to Abraham
After lunch we visited the town of Beit El. We ascended to the top of a water tower that is a great lookout point. Beit El is where G-d promised Abraham that he would inherit all of the land that he could see. While standing at this lookout point you can better understand what G-d was promising. You can see till Jerusalem in the south. To Jordan in the East. To the Hermon mountain in the North and to the coast in the west!
In Beit El we also saw several interesting trees that they don’t have in the Netherlands like pomegranate, apricot, olive and date palms.
Shiloh – Site of Hannah’s prayer
Next we visited ancient Shiloh. The Mishkan was stationed in Shiloh for 369 years making this the center of Jewish worship at the time. We hiked around the site till we got to the place where we think the Mishkan used to rest. There is a large rectangular spot carved out of the bedrock that fits the dimensions of the Tabernacle as explained in the Torah.
We spoke about the history of this site including how Hannah came here to pray for a son. G-d blessed her with a baby named Samuel who became the prophet who brought Israel from the time of the Judges to the period of the Kings. The Husmanns took a few moments to say a personal prayer at this site.
Next we climbed up to the Tel where the city of Shiloh stood. We could see ruins of the homes from Biblical times. We climbed up to the newly completed lookout tower to get an overview of the site.
By this time the kids were getting pretty tired so we started to head back home. On the way we stopped off at my home where I showed my guests how the Torah is written and we made a pen from a reed we collected at the Nahal Prat. I was very happy that my kids got an opportunity to play with theirs and meet people from a different country.
An awesome three days!
It’s never easy to tour with 3 small children. As a father of 7 I understand the challenges in doing a tour like this with kids. We made sure to take it slow even if we had to drop a few sites from our itinerary to make them comfortable. We took time to let them play and explore at each site we visited. And of course frequent stops for bathrooms, and ice creams are a must! But even with the challenges involved we managed to experience many sites that I think the kids will remember for the rest of their lives.
If you are coming to Israel and are interested in a tour like this, please contact me so we can create exactly the tour for you.