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ERETZ Magazine





















Stayput Golan

There is no other place in the northern part of Israel with the wide open expanses of the Golan – the beautiful plateau of the southern Golan, the canyons and valleys in the center, and the mountain range of the Hermon, rising up to its snow-capped peak.

The small hamlet of Dabura already was abandoned in 1888 when Gottlieb Schumacher, the German architect and explorer, visited it in 1885. Bedouins had set up tents next to the ancient basalt houses that stood on the hill overlooking the Hula Valley. Later, after the creation of Israel, Syrian soldiers set up an outpost between the houses – in preparation for an Israeli attack.
Schumacher had examined the houses and discovered that many ancient sculptures had been reused in their walls. In 1969, after the Six Day War, a basalt lintel was discovered on one of the houses with the Hebrew inscription, “This is the beit midrash of Rabbi Elazar the Caper Maker.” The discovery tied into an interesting discussion in the Talmud about “dangling on Shabbat.” Dangling, that is carrying a light object in your hands, is not allowed according to Jewish law. The Talmud gave examples of things that one should not do in order to avoid carrying on the Shabbat. One of the things was “not to wear new shoes.” What are new shoes? the Talmud asks. Shoes that have not “walked” a certain distance – for example, a distance equal to the distance between the synagogue at Katzrin and the beit midrash of Rabbi Elazar the Caper Maker. The ancient talmudic synagogue of Katzrin is located in what is today Katzrin’s archaeological park and the beit midrash is a short distance away – about 4 kilometers as the Golan raptors fly.
The Golan is full of surprises and exciting discoveries such as these – interesting historical connections, ancient ruins hidden away in beautiful ravines, natural oak forests, ancient fortresses and fortified cities, and above all, the great outdoors, grazing lands, vineyards, and farms of this region.

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The town of Gamla was built on the slope of a camel-like hill jutting out of the Daliyot riverbed. One side of the hill is a sheer cliff, the other is a steep slope on which the houses of the town were constructed, along with a synagogue, ritual bathhouse, and various other public buildings. A wall surrounded the town.
From the  time of King Herod, in the first century BCE, the Jewish population of Gamla resisted the Greek influences that Herod had imported into the land. After initial battles with Herod and the Romans, the town became the seat of the family of Hezekiah the Galilean, who led what Josephus Flavius called “the party of the Sicarii.” A sica was a small dagger and the Sicarii were known to carry them in order to stab their opponents.
When the war against the Romans broke out, Gamla was one of the strongholds of the Jewish rebels. In the year 68 CE, the Roman legions besieged the town. A siege wall was set up  and the legionaries attacked the walls again and again – to no avail. Finally, the siege paid off. In one last effort, the Romans breached the walls and stormed the city. The defenders and their families gathered at the top of the town, on top of the cliff, and in order not to fall into the hands of the Romans they committed suicide, jumping to their deaths. The last of the Sicarii would, five years later, commit suicide on Masada.

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Vines and Wine

The Golan Height’s geographic and climatic conditions make it an ideal place to grow grapes and produce wine. Many refer to the Golan Heights as Israel’s wine country because of the dozens of wineries located there; almost all of them offer tours.
The Chateau Golan Winery offers tours seven days a week that explain its winemaking philosophy and include a visit to its wine cellar and a tasting of a selection of its wines. The winery’s garden and wine cellar also can be rented for small events and parties (Moshav Eliad, Tel. (04) 660-0026, reservations required, not kosher).
The Bazelet Hagolan winery specializes in cabernet sauvignon made with grapes grown on the Golan’s rich, fertile basalt lands. The winery offers tours and during the harvest season (from Rosh Hashana to Sukkot) visitors also can observe the winemaking process (Moshava Kedmat Zvi, Tel. (04) 696-5010, reservations required, kosher).

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Cowboy Chow

The Golan has been very successful in raising cattle thanks to its rich expanses of grazing land and comfortably chilly climate. The restaurant that captures the Golan’s Wild West atmosphere best is Habokerim (Hebrew for cowboys). The tables are covered with checkered cloths, the bar stools are designed to resemble saddles, a horse ranch is right outside, and the menu features a variety of cuts of grilled beef (Kibbutz Merom Golan, Tel. (04) 696-0206, kosher).
At Hava Bekfar (Hebrew for ranch in the village) on Moshav Ramot, the menu also features roasted meats and meat stews. Hava Bekfar is open in the evenings only. Reservations are recommended (Moshav Ramot,
Tel. (04) 679-7097, not kosher).
Situated atop Mount Kateh, Nimrod is considered the highest Jewish community on the Golan Heights. It is the site of a restaurant called Kederat Hamakshefa Vehahalban (Hebrew for the witch and the milkman’s stew), which specializes in meat and fish stews. It also serves excellent soups, such as tomato soup with ginger and goat’s milk yogurt or cream of onion soup served in a loaf of bread. (Nimrod, Tel. (04) 687-0049, not kosher).

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Nimrod’s Castle

The massive castle on the slopes of Mount Hermon overlooking the Hula Valley and the ancient town of Banias was built by the Moslem rulers of Damascus to guard the road leading from Damascus to Tyre. In the twelfth century, it was turned over to the Assassin sect, which made it, together with other strongholds in the mountains of Lebanon, one of their bases. The sect was known for its suicidal attacks on opposing leaders – both Crusader and Moslem. They strengthened their spirit before setting out on their missions by smoking a potent weed that later was named after them: hashish. After the Crusaders’ withdrawal from the Land of Israel and the demise of the sect, the castle was turned into a prison for political leaders and later abandoned.
Touring the castle includes descending into the old prison cells, walking through a secret exit, exploring the huge dungeon, and squeezing through some very narrow passageways.
A foot path leads from the castle down to the Banias spring. The scenic downhill hike takes about two hours; the path meanders between old oak trees and the remains of a natural forest. The castle is named after the biblical hero Nimrod.

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Gilbon Hike

Follow the red-marked dirt road that leads from Route 91 to the Gilbon parking lot (turn right at the junction with the road marked in blue). Since there are old mine fields here, stay on the trails and do not climb over fences! The trail down to Nahal Gilbon, marked in red, starts between the houses. Once across the river, you are at the top of the Devora Waterfall. Take the blue trail branching off to the north (right). It leads to Horvat Devora.  Return to the Devora Waterfall, which makes a 12-meter dive into a lovely pool. On the way to the bottom of the waterfall, you’ll pass fig trees, olive trees, and prickly pear (sabra) hedges. Oleander bushes beside the pool bedeck the area with pink flowers in summer; giant reeds and lilac chaste trees grow beside the channel. The red trail continues down the river. One kilometer further down the riverbed is the 41-meter-high Gilbon Waterfall. From the observation area, a blue-marked trail leads off to the right, up the steep slope. After a strenuous climb, you will reach an unpaved road, marked in blue, back to the junction with the road marked in red. Turn left and follow the red road to the parking area where you started.

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Day 1: Northern Golan

Start the tour at Merom Golan. Drive up Mount Bental, one of the three lines of extinct volcanoes on the Golan. The view from the old Israeli outpost on the top of the mountain is magnificent. The Coffee Anan restaurant at the top is a good place for a break. Take Route 98 to the Druze villages of Ma’sade and Majdal Shams. Take Route 989 down to Neve Ativ. Continue to Nebi Hazori for a picnic under the huge ancient oak trees. Continue to Nimrod Castle National Park for a visit to the huge bastion of the Assassins. Keep going down the slope to Banias Nature Reserve for a short walk along the Banias (Hermon) River, which is one of the three tributaries of the Jordan River.

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Day 2: Central Golan

Start the tour with a visit to the archaeological museum in Katzrin. Then tour Katzrin’s archaeological park and visit the Golan Heights Winery. Then take Route 9088 to Route 87 and then to Route 98. Finally, drive down Route 808 to Gamla and end the day with a visit to Gamla National Park.

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Day 3: Southern Golan

Take Route 98 to the southern part of the Golan. Take Route 789 down the Golan. Stop off at Kursi National Park to visit the site of the Gerasene Demoniac and the huge Byzantine monastery. Take Route 92 south around the Sea of Galilee to Tiberias. Visit the Hamat Tiberias synagogue and the tomb of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness. Return via Route 90 to Route 98 and drive to the Hamat Gader Hot Springs. Spend the afternoon and evening at the hot springs (bringing a bathing suit, towel, and soap). Drive up the hairpin turns of Route 98 back to the Golan and follow Route 98 all the way back to Katzrin and from there back to Merom Golan.

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Day 4: Safed and Hula Valley

Follow Route 91 to Route 90. Turn south on Route 90 to Rosh Pina. Explore old Rosh Pina and then continue to Safed to visit the city of the Kabbalists. Don’t miss the ancient cemetery. If time permits, drive south on Route 90 to visit to the ancient site of Korazim. End the day with pancakes with real mulberry cream at the Vered Hagalil horse ranch. Drive back to Merom Golan.

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Day 5: Jerusalem

Enter the Old City via the Jaffa Gate and visit the Tower of David Museum, whose main exhibit focuses on the history of Jerusalem. Then walk down David Street, the main souvenir market, to the first intersection. Turn left onto Christian Quarter Street and walk to the alley of Saint Helena that leads down to the Holy Sepulcher. Tour the assemblage of churches that have been built around the Tomb of Jesus since the third century. Exit by the small entrance to the courtyard that leads to the Muristan Market. Walk straight ahead until you reach the busy market street of Khan e-Zeit. Turn right and walk down the ancient Crusader markets. (Walk along the central one which has less freshly butchered meat hanging on hooks in the street.) Once out of the market, turn left on David Street and make your way round the corner to Sisileh Street. Walk down the street to the street turning to the Kotel. Walk down to the Kotel. After visiting the Kotel, take the Rabbi Yehudah Halevi steps up to the Jewish Quarter. Make your way through the quarter to Zion Gate, walk out the gate, turn right, and walk along the outside of the wall back to the Jaffa Gate.

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Day 6: Tel Aviv

Take Route 85 to Route 65. From there, take Route 77 to Route 70 and then take Route 2 to Tel Aviv. Start in the south by exploring Jaffa’s flea market. Then take a taste of historic Tel Aviv by strolling through the Neve Tzedek neighborhood, Rothschild Boulevard, and the surrounding streets. Take a lunch break at one of the many cafes on Sheinkin Street and then check out the shops along Dizengoff Street. End the day with dinner on Ibn Gabirol Street.

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The Ramot Resort Hotel

The Ramot Resort Hotel, a holiday village located near Moshav Ramot, has significantly upgraded its facilities. It now has 12 deluxe chalets that can accommodate couples and 18 nature cabins designed for families. In addition, there are 80 standard rooms. In the spring of 2006, 13 additional chalet suites, a luxurious spa, and restaurants are slated to open.
The deluxe chalets are 60 square meters of pure indulgence. Designer Osnat Novick used bamboo and soft colors such as light brown, sky blue, and white to give the chalets an Asian feel that radiates understated elegance. Each bathroom has a giant shower and sauna and the main room of the chalet has a huge jacuzzi with decorative blue lighting and a functioning fireplace. The nature cabins for families have the same lovely design plus an extra room for the kids. Outside there is a sweet wooden porch on which the generous breakfast can be served. The chalets are arranged in diagonal lines in order to provide guests with as much privacy as possible in a hotel setting.
But, all that aside, the real reason for staying at the Ramot Resort Hotel is its amazing view of the Sea of Galilee. This isn’t a view that you have to stretch your head out a window at the correct angle to see, but a huge blue and green fresco that enchants you while breakfasting on the porch, lounging in the jacuzzi, enjoying a meal at the kosher panoramic restaurant, or simply glancing out a window. The view from the swimming pool also includes mango and apple orchards that seem to extend into the Sea of Galilee.

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Copyright ERETZ Magazine 2008