Under the slogan, 'we stood behind you during the war, we stand behind you now' the Jewish Agency invited the general public to visit more than 20 national parks and nature reserves thanks to generous donations from Jewish communities worldwide through Keren Hayesod.
"It warms my heart and is truly appreciated that donors would do this for us," says Yossi Hayut, a visitor to one of the sites.
Gili and Yossi Hayut took their children to Zippori, an ancient hilltop city with great archeological importance for both Christians and Jews. It was here that Rabbi Judah Hanasi lived with the Sanhedrin in 220 C.E.
"During the war my husband, Yossi, fought in Lebanon and I was alone with our three children. I worried about Yossi day and night. Needless to say, we had no summer vacation," says Gili.
Continues Yossi, "I am taking time off from work this Succoth to be with the family. This is the first time that we have been to Zippori and we were only able to come because it is free of charge. Otherwise, the entrance fee for all of us would have been too expensive."
Menachem and Mazal Vaknin, a religious family from Haifa are exploring the ancient living quarters with their 3 children. Mazal, a junior school teacher relates that her children suffered from nightmares for a long time after the war.
"Living in Haifa we really felt the full impact of the war," says Mazal. "There was no vacation, only 6 weeks of pure terror. We came here today to make up for what we lost in the summer. The fact that it is free of charge enables us to do more traveling and activities than we could normally afford.”
Zippori was closed to the public for the first two days of the war. It then opened, but for the entire six weeks the site remained empty of tourists. However, during this time expensive preservation work on the ancient ruins had to continue and wages for a skeleton staff had to be paid. In addition to the financial loses through lack of visitors, the site, which is also used as a setting for weddings and bar mitzvahs in the summer evenings suffered greatly by the cancellation of 52 weddings that were planned for July and August.
As the shadows lengthen and the visitors slowly wend their way towards their cars, Igal Yonash, manager of the Zippori site surveys the scene with satisfaction.
“Last year, after the end of the Intifada, we had a 20 percent rise in visitors to the site. With the region at last stable we felt we could afford to be optimistic. Then, the second Lebanon war broke out and our newfound optimism vanished."
"Yesterday we had 1,300 visitors and today another 1,400 passed through our gates. Its great that people are returning and we thank the Jewish Agency and Keren Hayesod for encouraging people to once again visit the beautiful sites in the north."
In addition to promoting "nature tourism" in Northern Israel, the Jewish Agency also sponsored an array of cultural activities during Succoth in cooperation with numerous organizations. These activities, in war-torn northern regions and southern regions still suffering from Kassam rocket attacks, included: Theater and shows in Tiberias, Safed, Shlomi, Ma'ale Yosef, Eshkol and Sha'ar Hanegev; the “Other Theater” festival in Acre; the Hakhel Jewish Happening Festival in Tel Chai; Children’s Town in Maalot Tarshiha; the Renaissance Festival in Mate Asher; the Israeli Dance Festival in Carmiel; the Upper Galilee March and post Simchat Torah “Hakafot” in Sderot.
Photo Credit: Naftali Hilger