Tag: Ein Harod

Cooling off in the Valley of Springs

When a heatwave hit, a lazy day relaxing by natural springs in northern Israel was just what the doctor ordered.

The area known as the Beit She’an Valley, more recently rebranded as the “Valley of Springs”, is, on the face of it, not an ideal place to live. It’s the hottest part of Israel—a combination of its altitude (over 100m, or 300ft below sea level) and its basalt rock, which absorbs the heat.

Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi, a farming collective located in the valley, holds the record for the hottest recorded temperature in Asia for a year-round settlement, clocking in 54C (129F). And yet, throughout history, people have lived and thrived in this area. In fact, under Roman rule, Beit She’an (or Scythopolis, as it was then known) was the regional capital.

What made this possible? The ready supply of fresh water. In addition to a couple of year-round streams, the geology of the area contributed to the formation of a plethora of springs. Combined with the fertile soil, it became a place where people could flourish.

Last October, after a gruelling few months of lockdown, and during a harsh heatwave, my wife and I decided to take a day to ourselves and drove up to the area to cool off in nature. We specifically chose to go during the week—during the weekend these places are normally packed.

Relaxing at the Shokek Spring in the Park of Springs in Northern Israel
Relaxing at the Shokek Spring in the Park of Springs in Northern Israel

We began our day in the appropriately named “Park of Springs” site. While many of the springs require a bit of work to find, this is an organised site that collects together three springs and associated streams, with trails connecting them and helpful signage and facilities. Entry to the site is free, but you can pay to hire bicycles, golf carts or to deposit valuables in a locker.

Given the heat, we splashed out on a golf cart and spent a wonderful few hours in the park. We drove between springs, alternatively dipping ourselves in the refreshing water, cooling off in the shade, and enjoying the picnic we’d picked up from one of our favourite bakeries on our drive north.

A delicious takeaway breakfast picnic from the Jacobs Dairy and Agadat HaLechem bakery.
Breakfast Picnic from Jacobs Dairy and Agadat HaLechem Bakery

There are fish pools in the park, owned by the local kibbutz. October is the beginning of the big annual bird migration across Israel, with half a billion birds flying in from Europe and Asia to head down to warmer climes on the African continent. We were able to spot a whole flock of pelicans in the pools, quite majestic animals.

Migrating pelicans in the fish pools located in the Park of Springs in Northern Israel
Migrating Pelicans in the Fish Pools located in the Park of Springs in Northern Israel

One thing we didn’t have time for was the Kibbutzim Stream water hike. It’s located in the park, and with the water going quite deep at parts, can become more of a swim than a hike. I’ll have to get back there to give it a go.

Having enjoyed the park, we set off on our way home, via a stop at a different spring, in the Jezreel Valley. The Harod Spring is mentioned in the Bible, in one of my favourite stories. Detailed in Judges 7, Gideon takes his Israelite warriors to the spring ahead of a major battle with the Midianites. In what I sometimes jokingly refer to as the first HR assessment centre, he invites them to drink, and then selects his fighters based on the result. You can read the full story here.

Today, the Harod Spring is a national park in a beautiful setting. There is an entry fee, but the advantage is that it was even more peaceful and relaxed than the Park of the Springs. We spent another good couple of hours relaxing in and out of the water, and just enjoying nature after so long stuck in the city. You can read more about the Harod Spring from when I visited it on the tour guide course.

Some of the Treats on Offer at the Maklot Vanille Cafe in Afula, Israel
Some of the Treats on Offer at the Maklot Vanille Cafe in Afula

Sadly, it was time to head home, but we made time for a couple of culinary stops. First, for a yummy early supper at Maklot Vanil in Afula, and then to pick up some crisp, fresh and very reasonably priced veggies from the Carmelim farm shop in Yogev.

Browsing the Carmelim farm shop in Northern Israel
Browsing the Carmelim Farm Shop in Northern Israel

All in all, a wonderfully relaxing day in nature, with some delicious treats to boot. 

Settlement of the Jordan Valley

A strange atmosphere today, a sense of nearing the end, as we began our penultimate tour of the course. Today’s trip was dedicated to the settlement of the Jordan Valley (or specifically the area around the Sea of Galilee), with a diversion via the Harod spring which we had not managed to visit previously.

On the one hand, a palpable sense of relief in the air – we have nearly made it! On the other, tension and concern as the final exams approach. And a mix of nostalgia – we have gone through a lot together.

Our day began, as mentioned, at the Harod Spring, located on the slopes of the Gilboa mountain. We visited the house built by Yehoshua Hankin, who was responsible for purchasing a great deal of the land that eventually became part of Israel – around 1000 square kilometres (that’s around 250 000 acres), including the majority of the Jezreel and Harod valleys. The house has recently been restored and has a short film about the life of Hankin – the film is a bit dated but the story is very impressive.

The Harod Spring
The Harod Spring

We then descended to the Harod spring itself, the site of the biblical story where Gideon selected his warriors based on their drinking style, before going out to vanquish the marauding Midianites.

Leaving the biblical period behind us, we drove east to the site of ‘Old Gesher’, which until 1948 was the Gesher kibbutz. Gesher means bridge and here are three bridges over the Jordan river, with one dating to the Roman period (with Mamluk repairs on top). The border with Jordan runs right down the middle of the river and we descended to the river (under the watchful eye of the nearby Jordanian border position) to check out the bridges and hear about the battle for the site in 1948.

Roman / Mamluk bridge over the Jordan at Old Gesher (currently under restoration)
Roman / Mamluk bridge over the Jordan at Old Gesher (currently under restoration)

Nearby are the ruins of the Naharayim hydroelectric plant, the first such structure in the Middle East and a remarkable feat of engineering for the time. Built across the border of what was then the Mandate of Palestine and Transjordan, it was an example of the cooperation between the early Zionists and King Abdullah of Jordan; sadly this did not last past the 1948 war and ever since it has been lying in ruins. The electricity company have built a small interactive museum about the plant; I had low expectations but it really was rather good.

Kinneret Courtyard
Kinneret Courtyard

From Gesher, we headed north to the Kinneret ‘courtyard’. Here the World Zionist Organisation established a training farm at the beginning of the 20th century, to help all the young and eager pioneers learn how to farm the land before going out to set up for themselves. The passionate and ideological young socialists who arrived here formed the backbone of what was to be the future state; indeed it was here that institutions such as the kibbutz; institutions such as the Hagana, Hamashbir and the Labour Union first sprouted.

One of the most famous inhabitants is Rachel Bluwstein (normally just referred to as Rachel or Rachel the Poet), a young pioneer who led a short and tragic life, leaving behind here a large amount of beautiful poems, many of which have become part of the Israeli literary and indeed musical canon.

The first building at Umm Juni
The first building at Umm Juni

Speaking of the kibbutz, our next stop was slightly further south at Umm Juni. In 1910 a small group of socialist ideologues arrived here, having been offered the land by the WZO. Remarkably, through their revolutionary communal living model, they were able to make a profit in the first year. And so the first kibbutz was born, established just next to the area called Umm Juni, and named Deganya.

The Motor House of Kinneret
The Motor House of Kinneret

We headed back north, to the site known as the Motor House. The building housed a pump that irrigated the surrounding fields, but of more interest was the story of the Yemenite immigrants who were housed here after moving to Israel in around 1912. They were eventually moved on in order to allow graduates of the Kinneret farm to establish a new communal settlement on the land, and a significant proportion of the group were not happy to leave. The story only became public knowledge in the past 15 years or so and caused quite a big deal of controversy in Israel.

Grave of Naomi Shemer in the Kinneret Cemetery
Grave of Naomi Shemer in the Kinneret Cemetery

We walked from the Motor House to the shore of the Sea of Galilee and our final site for the day, the Kinneret Cemetery. In a beautiful shaded setting next to Israel’s largest freshwater lake is housed the pantheon of Labour Zionists, the graves of Berl Katznelson, Rachel, Moses Hess, Nachman Syrkin, to name just a few. Together with these are some tragic stories associated with the struggle of the pioneers to adjust to their new environment; or on a completely different note, the grave of Naomi Shemer, the singer of ‘Jerusalem of Gold’, who was born at Kinneret.

We began our drive home to Tel Aviv, and in addition to the other emotions of the morning, we all began to feel a certain amount of nostalgia. Just one more tour remains, and it should be quite a fun one. What is the destination? You will have to wait until next week to find out!