Fun, free day in Israel with kids: Visit the ‘Hebrew park’ in Rishon Letzion

Around six months ago, Rishon Letzion opened two new ‘themed’ parks: ‘Gan B’Ivrit’ and ‘Gan Musica’ – big open spaces with a different sort of take on play equipment for kids.

On Friday I got to settle my curiousity and we visited the Hebrew park. Aside from a few really gorgeous park equipment setups, grassy areas for kicking a ball, and lots of open bbq space, the idea there is to offer a few alphabet-themed attractions.

First, the Aleph Bet water fountain, which was perfect, because it was an exceptionally hot day for beginning of March. Jerusalem-hill-ites that we are, I did not come prepared with bathing suits or change of clothes (or… sunscreen) but the kids managed to get doused (and dry, pretty quickly). It’s refreshing to see these types of water fountains opening up in parks around the country.

Rishon Letzion Gan B'Ivrit

Moving on, we hit a whole range of aleph-bet and language related equipment. The ‘mountain climbing’ through letters was a fun one:

Rishon Letzion Gan B'Ivrit

And the words wall was a little over my little kids’ heads but we did pick out some fun ones to read and recognize letters…

Rishon Letzion Gan B'Ibvrit

There was also a chalkboard wall for practicing letters. And the Wikipedia entry boasts a few more sections we didn’t see.

And the fish pond was sweet, too.

Rishon Letzion Gan B'Ivrit



Move over Tel Aviv; Yafo is a great day

A few weeks ago we trekked down to Yafo to give the city a little spin. I’ve never actually spent much time there aside from venturing in-and-out for conferences (and apparently writing about it very briefly). We basically parked at the beach and walked up through the port and then towards the center, through the Jaffa Flea Market – Shuk Hapishpeshim – and then back.

It was sweet.

There’s actually all kinds of history as the ancient port city of Israel, read up. I also enjoyed feeling like a tourist in some old Mediterranean seaside town. Which, luckily, is what it is.

Here are my favorite photos, which speak for themselves. And also, go to Jaffa.

Lots of fisherman. Lots of fish. Lots of fish restaurants.

A rare (for me) view of Tel Aviv.

Walking towards the port from the parking lot, passing through art galleries.

That vintage look works on Yafo.

Port style.

Jaffa is not too cool for the Segways.

Everything is relative.

On the way to the market.

Shuk Hapishpeshim – literally, flea market.

Lots of fleas, actually.

How fun to adopt this guy.

See you later, Jaffa!



Shabbat away, everyone plays: the Dan Jerusalem hotel review.

Living in Israel with no close family around to take your kids for a few hours… or a weekend… can be rough on two married adults. But the next best thing is getting ‘away from it all’ even if it’s as a family.

Last year we went to Shoresh, and this year we decided to escape Tzur Hadassah life by making the 30 or so kilometer trip to… Jerusalem, to the Dan Jerusalem hotel (used to be the Regency), on recommendation of friends and the fact we booked this very late in the week.

But it was actually an excellent hotel, very kid-friendly, so much so I had to share.

Check in: We came at 2pm (though if we called in advance, we probably could have shown up earlier).

Staff: Really friendly, totally helpful.

Rooms: Actually, surprisingly modern and well-furnished. I never get high hopes for that sort of thing, but I do think it’s important when the idea of a weekend getaway 30 kilometers from your home is to feel like you’re somewhere completely different.

Beds: Super comfortable. And according to the kids, like a gymboree. And added bonus? They both slept beautifully.

Pool: Looks small when you get to the pool area, but it’s actually a great size and most of it is actually relatively shallow (meaning, for adults). So it’s pretty much geared towards kids in floaties being followed by their parents. There’s also a tiny kiddie pool next to it. The lounge area is mostly under shade which is also really kid-friendly and Ashkenaz-friendly.

DaniLand kids’ play area: This was a fun surprise – a whole kids’ area for younger and older kids, with age-appropriate games and activities. Arcade games, foosball, pool and video games in one room, and a small gymboree, tv, arts & crafts tables, dress up closet and video games in the other.

Food: Possibly the best if not one of the best Shabbat food situations I’ve had. The Shabbat dinner was ridiculous, full of options, and the kids ate really well. Then again, my kids are good eaters (lamb, child?) but there were the standard shnitzel options. Breakfast in an Israeli hotel – nothing beats it and it lived up to the rep.

Other than that… at hotels, kids tend to find their own fun.

Putting the bubbles in the bath was a big hit…

…as were the 395439653 fluffy towels provided in each room.

Extra stuff for families:

  • a crib for the baby (fairly big, enough that my 15-month-old was fine)
  • a mini bar fridge in the room, cold enough with ice packs we brought

The mirpeset attached to the room is not child-friendly (though lovely to sit on once they’re tucked in).

All in all it was really great, though if you’re shomer shabbat there’s not much to do towards the end because the pool closes at 6:30 and the DaniLand closes at 6. Then you’ve got to be creative about going for walks up and down the stairs and through the halls.


Lil Israeli farm zoo at Kibbutz Tzora.

Checked out a new kids’ attraction in our area today: the Eretz Yehuda farm-zoo at Kibbutz Tzora (about 5 seconds outside Beit Shemesh/Big Center).

Fun fact: Kibbutz Tzora is also where they make Teperberg wine. Mmmm.

It’s a nice place to spend up to two hours with small kids. You can pet the roaming goats, prance with roaming deer, hee haw with the donkey, chase chickens, and see a few native Israeli animals like foxes and hyrax (senior year YOF Tanach class, anyone?).

There’s also a ‘gymboree’ area with old farm tractors and makeshift car rides.

It’s 25 shekels for kids and 15 for adults and open every day but Shabbat.

If you miss what you’re leaf-ing behind…

I discovered a place where you can stroll on Erev Thanksgiving and feel for a second like you’re home in North America: Gan HAPa’amon in Jerusalem.

The leaves are colorful, noisy, and abundant. You can crunch them, kick them, and show your kid a lil taste of motherland in just a few steps. While learning colors.

Modiin’s Anava Park.

On Friday, I returned with my home-peeps to the poor man’s Central Park in Modiin (for the record, it’s called Anava Park, פארק ענבה במודיעין) for a kid-friendly experience in daylight.

The main draw for me was the boating (pedals, row, or kayak). Koala’s mama grew up on an island, his pops is from a bay, and it was about damn time he experience a boat ride.

You can rent a lil boat and spend 15, 30, or 45 minutes moving around the big man-made lake. There’s also a kiosk for snacks and drinks. Plenty of grass for a picnic. And… and… a GIANT playground of awesomeness.

What? Koala wanted to go, I just followed along.

I highly recommend it… but more so in September or October or other non-melty months. It’s a lot of open space with barely any shade. And being on the water is fun, but not being able to jump in is less so.

City feature: Dead Sea

Last weekend, we took some R&R out in the dry heat and salt water of the Dead Sea. A vacation in the Dead Sea is really a vacation by an enormous hotel pool, with occasional dips in the oily, salty, burning sensation that is the Dead Sea.

This, however, is less about the Dead Sea and more about the road to the Dead Sea… I forget every time I go how freakin’ cool the highway to the Dead Sea is.

You leave Jerusalem heading towards Maale Adumim… I’ve always though of Maale Adumim as “the other Gush” (as far as proximity and relationship to Jerusalem). But actually, it couldn’t be far from it in terms of the ecology. As soon as you pass through the machsom (border control) the scenery completely changes to barren, dry hills and a desert existence.

You also feel the temperature change pretty quickly, if you dare to open your windows.

There’s one part of the drive where you pass rows and rows of palm trees on a date farm. I love this part.

This was a little random: a Native American statue climbing a flagpole towards the Australian flag. Whatever.

Ok, some Dead Sea photos too… A greener part of the Dead Sea.

A classic Dead Sea view. Those are the Jordanian mountains in the background.