by Yael Adar
Isaiah's Vineyard, the Forest of Milk and Honey and the Dale of the Song of Song's are just a few of areas that you will encounter when you visit Neot Kedumim, one of Israel's most beautiful and interesting nature reserves. Known as The Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel, Neot Kedumim is located just minutes from Ben Gurion Airport, halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in the Judean foothills, in area known in the Bible as the Shfela.
Olive Press The hills and valleys of Neot Kedumim span an area of 625 acres (2500 dunams) and are dotted with terraces, which have been crucial to the productive use of these hills for agricultural purposes throughout the ages. On a January morning I enjoyed a quiet solitary walk through one of the reserve's four trails. Along the way I stopped at The Garden of Wisdom Literature and The Pool of Solomon. The archaeological excavations (including a Second Temple wine press, and a
Talmudic era olive press) in addition to the grazing sheep, all added to the atmosphere, giving me a sense of what this landscape must have been like thousands of years ago.
The reserve's trails range from 1 – 2.5 miles (1.8 km to 4 km). Each trail has a different focus. This is the place to come and learn about the numerous types of Biblical and Talmudic plants as well as wild and domesticated animals. Here, geography, history, botany, zoology, and archaeology all come together, to bring the Bible, as well as Jewish and Christian traditions alive.
Due to years of overgrazing, erosion and battles, the land on which the reserve is located had worn down to bedrock. An 'artificial' environment was created by trucking in thousands of tons of soil. Then, the arduous process of restoration ecology (an effort to reclaim destroyed landscape) began. Date palms, sycamores, poplar willows and olive trees are among the trees that were brought to the reserve, in addition to numerous varieties of plants.
One of the things that makes Neot Kedumim so appealing, (beyond the sheer beauty of the place), is its obvious attention to detail. As you enter, you will receive a map of the reserve (in English) with the various trails, clearly marked in different colors. On the reverse side of the map there is a (partial) numbered list of plants, which can be found on the grounds (a complete list is available at the information center). You'll find plants listed by Latin name, family, as well the names in Hebrew and Arabic. Many of the plants in the reserve feature numbered signs next to them. As you enjoy the grounds, you can match the signs to the list and clearly identify the various plants, such as za'atar, (a wild oregano), or hyssop (#102) on your map.
The inhabitants of ancient times relied heavily on cisterns to collect rainwater, since Israel often suffers from drought. Today, you can climb down into one of these cisterns (although you may be surprised by a bird or two on the way). Or, you can explore the ruins of the (First century BCE – Eight century CE) village – which at one point served the pilgrims’ needs, on their way to Jerusalem. There are also ruins of an early Byzantine chapel that was built over the remains of a winepress.
All of the paths at Neot Kedumim are paved and easily handicapped accessible. There is also an internal train that tours the reserve (which is available to groups, by prior arrangement). The reserve was recognized in 1994 for its contribution to the society and the state, when it was awarded the Israel Prize, the State's highest honor.
Neot Kedumim is located near the Ben Shemen Forest, which is just across the road from the Afrikef Monkey Park.
Directions: From Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport: Take the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Highway (Rt. 1) south. Exit at the Modi'in Interchange. Follow the road as it merges with Rt. 443. The Neot Kedumim entrance will be on the left side of the road, 2 km. from the merge.