What to do in Israel at Pesach

By Lydia Weitzman, April 11, 2008

Wherever you are going in Israel, there’s plenty to keep everyone happy

Israel at Pesach provides the perfect holiday — café-hopping instead of cooking and matza rambling with sun hats replacing raincoats. And with hol hamoed — the intermediate days of the holiday — falling midweek, there are hundreds of events, festivals and happenings all over the country as well as all the regular sites and sights. An extra bonus is free entry into 50 museums and parks around the country, thanks to Bank Hapoalim.

KKL-JNF, the National Parks Authority and the Society for the Protection of Nature all offer special nature happenings and walks — too numerous to list. And, with most restaurants and cafés kosher for Pesach, you don’t even need to pack a picnic when you head off.


The North

Israel’s north, with — at this time of year — its flowing rivers, waterfalls, national parks and nature reserves, offers plenty of activities. Head for Mount Meron, where the traditional Pesach hike, with three family-friendly routes, takes place on April 22 (starting from the summit at 9am). At Lake Agmon in the Hula Valley, where thousands of birds stop on their migration routes, special Pesach events — beyond the fascinating tours of the nature reserve by train, bike, golf cart or on foot — include tours at sunrise and at night for optimal bird watching, as well as community singing on the lawns (April 21 at 6pm and April 23 at 9pm) For holistic happenings, head off to Hamat Gader (April 21-26) on the Southern Golan Heights for free yoga and Tai Chi, in addition to the site’s thermo-mineral baths and crocodile farm.

They promise a biblical atmosphere at Manara Cliff (April 21-25, 9.30 to 5pm), with characters from the Pesach story, drumming and balloon workshops on offer as well as a variety of extreme sports and the longest cable car ride in Israel, offering spectacular views.

For an afternoon of music with the Israel Kibbutz Orchestra, head off to the Eshkol Reservoir in the Lower Galilee, where KKL is sponsoring a waterside concert featuring music by Handel and Vivaldi — including, appropriately, Spring from The Four Seasons — in honour of Israel’s 60th anniversary (April 24, 4.30 with family activities from 1pm).

Music of a different sort (Israeli community singing) can be heard at the Ein Gev Music Festival, where more than 70 Israeli choirs and groups will give afternoon and evening performances at Kibbutz Ein Gev on the shores of Lake Tiberias (April 22-24). While in the town of Tiberias, there are free boat rides (courtesy of Bank Hapoalim) on Lake Kinneret (April 21-24, 10 till 3). Or you can just stroll the lakeside promenade with its arts and crafts fair (April 23-24, noon to 8pm).

Haifa’s International Festival for Children’s Theatre (April 21-23) promises dozens of performances featuring theatre companies from Israel and overseas, as well as plenty of local colour and outdoor events that include clowns from England and a musicaldance tribute to the Beatles.


Central Israel

There are plenty of Pesach happenings in Jerusalem to provide a change from all the usual sites and activities. These include the stunning Botanical Gardens (free entry) which has a farmers’ market, music and workshops (April 21-25, 10 to 4pm), and a guided tour in English (11am). There is also the children’s all-time favourite, the Biblical Zoo, where performing elephants and live jazz by the lake (lunch time on April 25-26) provide added interest. From the vantage point of the recently opened Mamilla Mall just by the Jaffa Gate (great shopping and cafés with spectacular views), you can enjoy a free, giant multimedia presentation and pyrotechnics on the Old City walls to celebrate 40 years since Jerusalem’s reunification (April 22-24 from 7.30pm). There are also free tours of the Old City and many Old City sites which will stay open till late at night for a new twist on the Jerusalem experience.

The Ein Hemed National Park, just outside Jerusalem, metamorphoses into the Kingdom of Legends (April 24- 26 April, 11 to 3), with characters such as Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood waiting to greet you alongside the streams and Crusader fortress.

There are also free guided tours of the Western Wall Tunnels. There is no need to book, but be prepared to wait in line. Every hol hamoed Pesach, the Western Wall plaza fills to capacity with tens of thousands flocking to receive the priestly blessing — an experience not to be missed. You can also experience being a pilgrim in Temple times at the Tower of David with its Complete Pilgrim’s Guide (English guided tours, 11am).

At the ever-growing City of David archeological park, take a two-hour walking tour (guided in English at 11, 1, 3 and 5) through Hezekiah’s water tunnel (not for the claustrophobic), or explore the Second Temple Period with tours (as before but on the half-hour).

Street theatre and musical performances all add to the festive air. At the Mount of Olives, choose from a large scale scavenger hunt along the Jerusalem trail; sifting for archeological treasures from the Temple Mount; or touring the site on foot or by jeep. The Armon HaNatziv promenade, with its stunning city views, plays host to creative workshops, a drummers’ circle and is the starting point for Segway tours of the area. Over at the Ben Hinnom Valley, there is an eclectic mix of tours of ancient burial caves alongside extreme sports for all the family! Within easy access of the holiday hotspots of Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Netanya, lies the ancient port of Caesarea, with its national park and a multimedia presentation. Horses will once again trot their stuff in the ancient hippodrome, much as they did 1,000 years ago.

Neot Kedumim, the biblical landscape reserve midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, also promises a great — and free — day out where, in addition to the regular trails through nature and the Bible, there are actors in costume, drumming circles and sculpting workshops (April 20-25, 9 to 5).


Southern Israel

The Dead Sea area comes alive with two very popular music festivals. On April 21-22, there is the Jewish Rock and Soul Festival at the Solarium Beach, with performances by Barry Sacharoff, Koby Oz (of Eurovision fame) and the Moshav Band, with all proceeds for the children of Sderot. The perennially popular Ahava Festival (April 20-25) features nature tours by day and concerts by night, with leading Israeli rock stars including Mashina and Ehud Banai (April 23) and local superstar Mosh Ben Ari in a sunrise concert (April 24-25).

Tear yourselves away from the pool in Eilat and take the kids to the Yotvata wildlife reserve, a 20-minute drive north, for a close encounter with the animals of the Bible (April 21-26) or, also outside the city, the vast Timna Park with a circus festival with jugglers, acrobats and clowns performing against a backdrop of dramatic desert scenery and clear blue skies. There is also a chance to try your hand at juggling, tightrope- and stilt-walking (April 21-23, 10 till 4) and sunset tours from 5-7pm.

Last updated: 2:32pm, September 10 2008