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Israelis Head Outdoors for the Holidays in Record-breaking Numbers

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

According to the Nature and Parks Authority, 1.5 million Israelis flocked to the great outdoors during the week-long holiday of Sukkot. The Parks Authority on Monday released the official data, reporting that 22 percent more Israelis visited the national parks during Sukkot than last year.

Caesarea, Ein Gedi, and Masada were among the popular destinations. My family and I often head to one of our beautiful national parks for a hike or bike ride each week on Shabbat and also during the holidays. Israelis love to get out into nature—from the Mediterranean to the mountains.

Caesarea National Park, located near the Mediterranean Sea, had the most visitors—44,000 people. Caesarea was one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire. It was situated halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, two key ports. You can still sit in the ruins of the ancient amphitheater built there and see the remains of a chariot racetrack as you look out toward the Mediterranean. King Herod built an artificial harbor, reaching out into the Mediterranean that confounds experts today. It is considered one of the most amazing engineering accomplishments in antiquity.

It was a thriving city in Jesus’s day, and we know for sure that the Apostles Peter and Paul knew about it. It was where Peter immersed Cornelius and his family in water, the first known Gentile believers (Acts 10-11), and later, it was the site of Paul’s famous address to Governor Felix, King Agrippa, and other Roman officials (Acts 24).

The Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, maybe my favorite site in Israel, saw 35,000 visitors over Sukkot. Ein Gedi is an oasis in the Judean Desert, near the Dead Sea, Masada, and the caves of Qumran (where the Dead Sea scrolls were found). It is full of caves, hiking trails, and waterfalls—which is exactly why David and his men fled there for refuge when King Saul was pursuing him (I Samuel 23-24).

Masada National Park also saw 32,000 visitors over the holiday week.

Masada sits on top of a mesa in the desert in southern Israel. King Herod built two palaces there and fortified it during his reign. In Israel, Masada is most famous as the site of a bold “last stand” by Jewish people fighting the Romans in 74 AD (when Jerusalem fell). Today, it is one of the places where our young people are sworn into the Israel Defense Force (IDF). It serves as a reminder to remember the sacrifices of those who have gone before—the final words of the IDF oath are “Masada shall not fall again.”

Professional tours were given at many of the national parks, and there was festival-like entertainment, such as jugglers, singers, musicians, and actors, for the guests to enjoy.

“The challenge for the Nature and Parks Authority leading up to the High Holidays is to recognize the mood of the public, which is affected mainly by security events, the weather forecast, and the division of weekdays in relation to holidays and the Sabbath, and accordingly to manage and influence the movement of travelers and their experience before the holiday and on the holiday itself,” said Raya Shourky, head of the Nature and Parks Authority.

And if you would like to see some of these sites in person, we have a few spots left on our upcoming tour in March 2023. Elana and I would love to have you join us!

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Shalom from Israel! I am Ron Cantor and this is my blog. I serve as the President of Shelanu TV.

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