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September 9, 2009September 9, 2009  1 comments  Nature

Escaping the heat of the last weeks of summer and looking to travel north? Sound familiar? Just like Americans and others who must cope with the summer heat, Israelis too head to the hills during the summer in order to enjoy the nature, the breezes, the serenity, family and of course, the WATER. Abundant, flowing water - something you don't see much of in Israel, is a beautiful site to behold in the north and the country's residents, Arabs and Jews alike, appreciate it. You want to see how people mix? Head to the campgrounds, and to the sites where there is water, several of which we visited during our brief weekend stay, including Horshat Tal, Banias (Caesarea Philipi and Tel Dan).


Camping is complicated, especially with kids. We chose the campground of Horshat Tal, a beautiful park, located in the Northern Galilee and  one of Israel's most popular nature reserves. Horshat Tal, Hebrew for "Forest of Dew",  is situated along the Dan River, one of three major tributaries that join together,  forming the Jordan river to the south.  The name is taken from Psalms 133 "the dew of Hermon" because of its proximity to Mount Hermon, which stands majestically and quite picturesque in the background. The mountain is similar to a sponge and absorbs rain and snow that falls on it and the water percolates through the limestone and emerges as springs at the foot of the 1615 meter high mountain. These springs create the Dan, Banias and Hastzbani Streams - all of which combine to form the Jordan River to the south. The 500 dunam (120 acre) nature park is primarily known for its ancient and enormous oak tress which provide wonderful shade during the summer months. The refreshingly freezing cold Dan river winds its way throughout the park, which also includes a large man made pool, waterslides, refreshment stand, picnic grounds, showers, and washroom facilities.


After several trips back and forth to the car, we unloaded our gear, including our enormous American sized tent that came complete with a porch in the front offering shade from the blistering sun. Jewish and Arab residents from around the country, strolled by and asked us where we'd purchased our unique shelter. "Costco", we replied, clearly a disappointing response to our inquirers who thought they might be able to pick it up at the local Metayel store. My husband and I had a brief though heated argument over where to pitch the tent; I had identified what I thought was a cool and shady spot directly on the river banks with the water rushing in the background. "This was perfect", I said "if we had noisy neighbors, the sound of the water rushing would surely drown any noise." My husband, though, insisted that it was too "tzafuf" or crowded, and selected another spot nearby. Needless to say the next morning, when we awoke at 6 am because of the sun and noise from our neighbors, the spot I had targeted was shady and cool. So we moved.


That aside, what really struck me about camping in Israel on the weekend, were the number of religious people who camped out. Camping is not easy, but camping and keeping the Sabbath at the same time presents even more challenges. Interestingly, where there is a will there is a way. Friday afternoon, before sunset, I noted the number of crock pots and "platot" or heating trays that suddenly appeared by the main kitchen / gathering area - the place where you could rent a fridge, wash your dishes, fill up water, etc. All the crock pots were lined up and inside each were vegetables and meat chunks that were slowly being cooked so that families could indulge in a proper Sabbath lunch of cholent the next day, Saturday. As we walked around the campground that night, we saw families enjoying their Friday night dinners, many of which had been prepared in advance for that evening.


The preceding two days were spent quietly relaxing at the campsite, early morning swims at the freezing pools and then onto explore the area. The first day we went to Banias, also known as Caesarea Philippi, a second of the three head waters of the Jordan. Banias has been extensively excavated and offers a variety of walking trails, ranging from one half hour up to 1.5 hours, or even longer. Many people will walk one of two 45 minutes circular trails, or the longer 1.5 hour trail.  Among other sites, the trails lead by the ancient Crusader Palace of Agrippa II and to the Crusader gatehouse along the bank of the Sa'ar Stream.  The 1.5 hour trail passes under an ancient Roman bridge, flour mill, and further down along the the Sa'ar Stream until climbing down into the valley where the magnificent Banias Waterfall is hidden. There is a moat and a Crusader wall and other remnants along with extensive foliage and animal life.


As noted by the archaeological findings, the areas location by the spring and rich vegetation prompted its early development by the Greeks and later, the Romans. Josephus Falvius, the historian during that period wrote that Herod built a temple close to the springs and dedicated it to the roman emperor Augustus. When Herod later died, the region was awarded to his son Philip who made it his capital and called it Caesarea Philipi. The original Greek name, Paneas continued to be used, and the "p" was pronounced a "b" by the native population and thus the name Banias persisted.



According to Christian tradition, this is the site where, after Peter stated that  Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus answered him: "Blessed are  you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matt 16:17-18). 


Our second day outing was spent at the Dan River Nature Reserve, the site of the largest and most important spring feeding the Jordan. Until the 1967 war, this river was the only source of water for the Jordan that was controlled by Israel. The reserve covers only about 120 acres  yet the abundance of water and location supports a unique ecosystem containing rare plants and animals. Archaeological findings here indicated that Dan was a city that first developed around 2700 BCE and the findings on site include an ancient Canaanite gate from the eighteenth century BCE that is completely intact with an arched entry. An Israelite gate, from the First Temple period, was also discovered.


A walk through Tel Dan can be as a quick as an hour to a full days activity. Trails range from 1 to 2.5 hours and are easy and family friendly, though not completely wheelchair accessible. The park offers a lot of shade as well as a fresh water fed wading pool  that is perfect for kids and adults alike.


It's  pretty amazing how easy it is to teach your children about the rise of ancient civilization on a summer day spent wading through water or walking by riverbeds. When they see the ancient palaces, gates, walls of civilizations dating back thousands of years ago, and they look around and see the water and beautiful foliage, they get why these locations emerged as so important. They know how valuable water is ( especially now when they read daily about how the government is imposing  $500 fines if we use too much water at home). Water is a valuable resource. And here, in the north, where its green and comfortable, it's easy to understand the evolution and strategic important of these ancient communities. Its all about the water. Still is.


Horshat Tal

Opening Hours:
08:00 - 17:00 (pools closed at 17:00 for those who are camping at the site as well)

Camping Costs: 55 shekel ($15 per adult and 45 shekel ($12) per child and includes entrance fees to the water park, electricity, showers. Refridgerator rental ($5) extra.

Directions: By Car, Traveling east on route 99 from Kiryat Shmona to Mount hermon and after 5.5 KM make a right turn (south) to Hurshat Tal Phone: 04-6942360  Fax: 04-6959360

Hermon Stream Nature Reserve:

Opening Hours - 8:00 to 17:00 (no entrance after 16:00).

Winter Hours- 8:00 - 16:00 (last entrance at 15:00)

Directions: By Car, Traveling east on route 99 from Kiryat Shmona to Mount Hermon and after 8.5 KM make a left turn into the main entrance of Banias. Tel: 04-695-0272

Tel Dan Nature Reserve

January to December: 8:00 to 16:00 (entrance until 16:00). On Fridays and holiday evenings the reserve closes an hour earlier.

Directions: By Car, Traveling east on route 9 from Kiryat Shmona towards Mount Hermon and after 7.5 KM make a left turn (north) to Tel Dan. Tel: 04-695-1579



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