This summer our family was fortunate enough to take a trip to Israel and spend the majority of our time in Jerusalem. Before the trip, I consulted with friends who have traveled to Israel with kids and scoured the internet for recommendations of the best activities to do with children. Depending on what your goals are, you can craft your itinerary in any number of ways. While there is no shortage of activities for every interest, finding destinations that meet the needs of your family is critical. How does one identify experiences that interest both a teenager and, in our case, a pre-kindergartener? The answer is that many ideas were appropriate for everyone and sometimes we divided up and one parent took the older kids while the other parent went with the younger ones.
There are several excellent resources for doing research and designing an itinerary. The book, Take Your Kids to Israel by Aileen Kirschenbaum, is a wonderful resource which provides lists of activities based on region in Israel and offers personal anecdotes of her family’s experience visiting different places. If you are Jerusalem-based, the website www.Fun in Jerusalem.com is indispensable. Aside from offering discounted rates on certain activities, a calendar of daily events in Jerusalem and lists of places to visit and resources for the tourist, I loved the “Top 100 Activities” located in the Fun List section of the website. Not every recommended activity costs a lot of money, and you will enjoy checking off all the things you have done to enhance your family’s experience.
Below is a sampling of some of our favorite moments from our trip, beyond visiting the Kotel and eating at Burgers Bar.
Museums are not for everyone, but some museums will surprise. Among the best museums in Jerusalem are two found on Givat Ram not far from the Knesset (which by the way has a daily tour in English—your older children will see where all the action in the Israeli government takes place). The Israel Museum (http://www.english.imjnet.org.il/) is a world class museum founded in 1965 and newly renovated several years ago. It boasts an impressive collection of many different forms of art and archaeology. I highly recommend an audio tour or, if your trip budget permits, setting up a personal tour. This is a museum that has something for everyone. The current ArTricks exhibit is a lot of fun, with interactive installations which highlight optical illusions in a unique way, and the current Herod exhibit tells the story through artifacts of the greatest builder in the history of the land of Israel. The Bloomfield Science Museum (http://www. mada.org.il/en), a short drive away, will get everyone’s gears moving. This is a hands-on museum with loads of ways for kids to experience and understand science. There is currently a stunning exhibit from France on “Shadows and Light,” which is a must see.
The Temple Mount Sifting Project, which is run under the auspices of the City of David (http://www.cityofdavid.org.il/), is one of our family’s favorite places. Kids learn to identify and find coins, bones, special glass, mosaics, pottery and pieces of marble amidst the dirt that was dumped from the Temple Mount following a construction project by the Waqf. None of my kids got tired of taking bucket after bucket of dirt, rinsing everything off and sorting the good from the bad. My son was rewarded with an unusual find: a horse’s tooth which dated back to the time of the Crusades. Visiting Ir David and walking through Chizkiyahu’s tunnel is a great way to cool off on a hot day and see first-hand the aqueduct that provided Jerusalem with water for centuries. While the Sifting Project and Ir David appealed to all of my children, some of the other archaeological activities were more geared towards the older kids. The Davidson Center, or Jerusalem Archaeological Park (http://www.archpark.org.il/), is the site of the Southern Wall excavations and tells the story of life in Jerusalem over the ages, beginning with the time of the Second Temple and its destruction. We visited before Tisha b’Av and took notice of the caved in First century street caused by the large stones pushed off the top of the Western Wall by the Roman soldiers. Go in the morning before it gets too hot. A guided tour dramatically enhances the experience.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation (http://english.Thekotel.org/) conducts the Kotel Tunnel Tours which need to be reserved in advance. The Kotel Tunnel Tour gives you the unique opportunity to walk closest to where the Kadosh HaKodashim was. The tunnel is a magical place where you will be transported back in time. It goes without saying, that a list of historic places to visit in Israel can seem nearly endless. My recommendation is to find the places that work for your family and give your children a concrete experience of history so they can relate to the land of Israel as they grow and mature.
The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo (http://www.jerusalemzoo.org.il/len/) is a great place to visit any time of the year. Special programs in the summer are sunset, night and sunrise tours of the zoo. Also throughout the summer, the Jerusalem Bird Observatory (http://www.jbo.org.il/Eng%20index. htm) conducts a “Night Safari” which gives background on the different types of wildlife that live in Jerusalem, as well as the different birds that can be found at night there. (Confession: this one was fun for me; my kids were bored looking for birds). Gan Botani (http://en.botanic.co.il/), the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, is a lovely place to visit. Inside the grounds is a delightful dairy restaurant which sits on the edge of a pond filled with fish and turtles. Throughout Jerusalem, we found playgrounds usually shaded from the sun, which were a great retreat after a day full of touring.
There are many opportunities to volunteer and include a chesed component to your trip. Our family volunteered at Yad Eliezer (www.yadeliezer.org) in Jerusalem. We were a six-person assembly line and in about two hours, under the supervision of Shalom at Yad Eliezer, we packed 44 monthly food boxes containing basic food staples. Our kids describe this as the highlight of their trip. Other families we know have volunteered at a soup kitchen in Jerusalem and given out ice cream to soldiers at a checkpoint. Daniel Rothner, founder and director of Areyvut (www.areyvut.org), an organization that promotes ways to incorporate chesed, tzedakah and tikkun olam in the lives of Jewish youth, is a great resource for chesed-based activities for families with all age children. Contact Areyvut for their ideas of chesed activities to do in Israel.
For every family, a trip to Israel is an unforgettable experience. In between visiting friends and family is an amazing array of places to see and visit throughout the country. I already have a list of things to do on our next trip, whenever that will be.
By Sara Prager