For Kid’s Sake
Fri, 06/10/2011
Israel Correspondent
Rock-wall climbing and bungee jumping at Deer Land. Photos by Michele Chabin
Rock-wall climbing and bungee jumping at Deer Land. Photos by Michele Chabin

Jerusalem — Summer vacation in Israel lasts eight hot weeks, and parents are always on the lookout for places where their family can have fun and the kids can burn off some energy.

To stay informed about family-friendly activities, English-speaking Israelis rely on a few trusted sources. Every Friday we check the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz, whose entertainment magazines include listings of events all around the country.

Fun in Jerusalem (www.funinjerusalem.com), a relatively new website, is a terrific guide to what’s going on in Jerusalem and nearby. There’s a list of local swimming pools, child-friendly museum programs, summer camps (some open to English-speaking tourists), bowling alleys and places to go rock climbing, go-carting, mini-golfing and taking jeep rides through the desert.

Other good resources are the Janglo (www.janglo.net ) and Tanglo (groups.yahoo.com/group/tanglo) user lists, where, in addition to ads for things like furniture and rental apartments, members post upcoming events. It’s also a great place to ask for advice and to find a babysitter.

We’ve visited two kid-friendly spots in recent months, Mini Israel and Deer Land, and both hit the spot for my husband and I and our boys.

Mini Israel

For years we’d been seeing ads for Mini Israel, an attraction located next to Latrun, about a half-hour’s drive from Jerusalem, but wondered whether it was for us.

The park has about 380 miniature models of sites throughout modern-day Israel, as well as a handful depicting life from the past.

Would our boys, who enjoy toy soldiers and Lego, have the interest or patience to see pint-size images of Ben-Gurion Airport of Masada? Turns out, we were all enthralled by the model’s minute detail (1:25 scale) and craftsmanship. Several had moving parts, and the soccer game we watched at the mini Teddy soccer stadium (named for Teddy Kollek) was a big hit.

“Seeing” the entire country in miniature reminded us how diverse Israel really is. While we had expected to see Tel Aviv skyscrapers and a stunning model of the Western Wall complex, we also appreciated the oil refinery, a factory manufacturing food, the snow-topped Mt. Hermon in the Golan and Masada in the south.

The replicas of the beautiful churches in the Galilee and Jerusalem, and the mosque atop the Temple Mount, were a good starting point for a brief discussion on Israel’s multiculturalism and the need for coexistence.

As Jerusalemites, it was especially fun to see such iconic yet familiar buildings as the YMCA, the King David Hotel and of course, the Old City. But it was the miniature sunbathers at the beach in Tel Aviv and the desert landscape of the Dead Sea that gave us the urge to get into the car and explore.

When the kids had had enough, they took a pony ride and eagerly allowed themselves to be sealed into a life-sized bubble that enabled them to roll, slip and slide in a shallow pool of water.

Mini Israel is wheelchair and stroller friendly. On the down side, it’s expensive by Israeli standards and there’s very little shade, except in the kosher restaurant and gift shop. To avoid sunstroke on hot days, it’s best to visit late in the day — figure on spending at least two hours at the park. Those who purchase tickets online receive a discount (be sure to print out your computerized tickets). Fun in Jerusalem offers coupons to the park. (www.minisrael.co.il)

Deer Land

On a pleasant spring day during Passover vacation we checked out Deer Land, which is located in the West Bank, very close to the Gush Etzion Junction. It took us about a half hour to drive to the park from the city.

It turned out to be a great place to spend an afternoon with active kids in search of a good time. Graced with many shade trees and stone picnic tables (they sell meat meals but visitors are also permitted to bring food from outside), it’s a peaceful place to unwind in a forest-like setting.

Named for the nice little zoo housed there, the park is better known for the activities it offers. There are two zip lines — one quite easy and not at all scary, even for younger children; the other a heart-stopping foray over a wide, deep wadi (return trip by jeep). The longer zip line was especially popular with the fervently Orthodox families visiting the park that day.

Our kids opted instead for the shorter zip line, the difficult climbing wall, and especially the large trampolines, where they were strapped into harnesses. They were disappointed that they didn’t meet the height requirement for a difficult rope bridge/climbing wall activity. We spent some downtime in the zoo, where we were encouraged to interact with the smaller animals.

Next time, we’ll check out the archery corner and maybe paint ball as well. Deer Land is a popular place for bar/bat mitzvah and birthday celebrations.

We were fortunate that, because it was Passover vacation, the park offered an affordable multi-activity package. Most other times the activities are a la carte (about $3 to $7.50 per activity; $30 for the long zip line). Telephone: 050-5388705. (www.deer-land.co.il)