You come to the Holy Land with your children. You're excited to show them the land, to teach them about its rich history and its centrality to Christianity. But kids just wanna have fun! Fret not! In Israel, you can do both at the same time. Take advantage of the unique experiences the Holy Land offers. Swim in the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus walked on water. Clamber over ancient Crusader fortresses. Point out the flora and fauna that existed in the times of Abraham, Moses and Jesus.
Here are 5 kid-friendly stops for your Holy Land itinerary:
Walk in the water at the Majarsa Nature Reserve! The Daliot River, which runs into the Kinneret, forms the perfect water hike. Wade through the river, befriending exotic dragonflies and fish along the way. Remember to bring waterproof shoes or sandals - the rocks are slippery! The water level ranges from ankle to waist-height (though the level depends on the rainfall from the previous winter.) You might have to carry the small ones through the deeper portions; older ones will relish the chance to swim in the refreshingly cool water. Babies and toddlers can enjoy the hike as well, happily reclining in a baby carrier, as Mom or Dad does all the work! The hike lasts about twenty to thirty minutes, depending on the crowds (and the speed of your crew.) Reward your kids - and yourself - for a job well done at the ubiquitous "artik" (Hebrew for ice pop) stand that will greet you upon exit.
Note: Depending on the amount of time you will be in Israel, it might be worth investing in a parks pass. For the price of the pass, you have unlimited access to all the national parks in Israel for a year. You can purchase a pass at any of the parks.
At Bat Ya'ar Ranch, near the ancient, mystical city of Tsfat, you may hear your kids say, "Wow!" "Cool!" or "Can we do that again?" But they will definitely not say, "I'm bored!" The ranch, one of the foremost horseback riding sites in Israel, has plenty of fun for everyone. Parents and kids, ages 10 and up, can take a (gentle, trained) horse out for an hour (or longer). For a true "havaya" (Hebrew for "experience"), go on a two-day horseback trek! Meander "out west," stopping for the night at a unique ecological village. Bat Ya'ar also offers a challenging ropes course (open on Saturdays and holidays), as well as Israel's only outdoor bowling site! The younger crowd can enjoy all sorts of age-appropriate activities, such as pony rides, pita-making, and a petting zoo. Bat Ya'ar also offers activities for groups - contact the ranch for more information or to make reservations. (firstname.lastname@example.org or 04-682-2268)
The Tisch Family Zoological Gardens - aka The Biblical Zoo, located in Jerusalem - offers all the wonder and enchantment of a zoo through a unique Biblical perspective. The informational signs tell readers not only about the animal's diet and habitat - but also where this animal is mentioned in the Bible. The zoo is spread out over 62 lush, well-maintained acres. Observe the magnificent animals - regal lions, playful monkeys, slithery reptiles, and majestic elephants; hike a short path to a fantastic viewing area and observe zebras, giraffes, and hippos bathing in the cool water. Don't miss out on the Children's Zoo, complete with a petting zoo and a Noah's Ark-themed playground. Surrounding the playground is a beautiful sculpture garden - which youcan touch and climb on! The Children's Zoo also offers shade and comfortable benches, and, of course, refreshments. Relax with an ice cream or ice-cold drink before continuing on your way.
Have a budding archaeologist on your hands? Then grab your trowel and soil sifter and head to Bet Guvrin to participate in Dig for a Day! (What? You don't have your own trowel and soil sifter? That's okay - the folks at Archaeological Seminars, who run the digs, will provide them for you!) The program, which is appropriate for adults and kids over the age of five, runs approximately three hours. While that might not be enough time to unearth and reassemble King Tut, it will be jam-packed with digging, sifting, examining your finds, and then touring the park. Crawl through the vast, labyrinthine cave system (don't worry, it's guided) and marvel at the complex underground rooms built hundreds of years ago. Keep in mind that you need to pay separately for entrance into the park, in addition to the fees for the dig.
Ein Hemed, just off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway (Route 1), an oasis of green in a mostly brown country, is filled with fascinating Crusader remains and leafy grounds. The Crusaders who lived here long ago gave the place a different name - Aqua Bella, meaning "beautiful water," in appreciation of the refreshing stream that runs through the park. At the entrance of Ein Hemed is a small playground, but what will surely fascinate the little guys for longer is the imposing, two-story Crusader manor. Walk through the magnificent arched gate into a central courtyard and investigate the well-preserved rooms. (Terrific for a game of ultimate hide-and-seek!) Follow a path to a burial cave that scholars have dated to the Second Temple period. The gurgling stream adds to the beauty and serenity of the park. Guided tours are available with a reservation, including a "Genesis Tour," "Nature's Right to Water" and "William the Crusader."
The experiential is what we remember the most. Let your kids run, swim, climb, and dig - let them touch their history with their own two hands (and feet). The impact of this experience will resonate with them long after the dirt is scrubbed off and the ice pops are finished.