Beit She’arim National Park is one of the most famous sites in the Lower Galilee area. It was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015 due to its significance to Jewish history and due to its magnificent necropolis, “city of dead”. Beit She’arim was where Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, one of the most important spiritual and political leaders of the Jewish people in the 2nd century CE, lived for many years and later buried. After the Rabi was buried in Beit She’arim, the graveyard of the settlement became very popular and Jewish people from all around the world wanted to be buried here.
But, in this post I will write less about Beit She’arim and more about what you can see around it if you have a few extra hours. This Chol Hamoed Sukkot, my family and I, like many other Israeli families, decided to leave the house and explore our beautiful country. On one of the days, we decided to explore Beit She’arim and its surroundings. So what did we find?
A Pleasant Hike Along the Ilan Trail:
Beit She’arim National Park lies next to road number 75. On the opposite side of the road lies the quiet town of Kiryat Tiv’on. At the eastern outskirts of Kiryat Tiv’on is a pleasant, beautiful and short hiking trail, called the Ilan Trail. This was our starting point for the day.
How to get to the trail?
We came by car, but if you plan to come by bus, it is quite easy. If you are coming from Jerusalem, take line 968 (to Carmiel) from Jerusalem Central Bus Station. This bus leaves more or less every two hours. You should get off at Tiv’on Junction (ask the driver to tell you when you should get off). The ride should take about 2 hours. Expect to pay abour 40 NIS.
If you are coming from Tel Aviv, take like 826 (to Nazareth Ilit) from Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. This bus leaves more or less every hour. You should get off at Tiv’on Junction. The ride should take about one hour and 45 minutes. Expect to pay about 35 NIS.
Afterwards, you can walk from the Tiv’on Junction into Kiryat Tiv’on, follow the main road until you see a gasoline station and then turn right onto a road, that will lead you to a point where two streets meet: Remez (רמז) and Borochov (בורוכוב). Walk down Remez street and turn right before the “No Entry” traffic signs. There is a small brown sign pointing to the direction of the right road, saying in Hebrew: “לעץ האלה”, which means “to the pistacia tree”. Go down this road. It will at some point turn into a dirt road and then, when you will get to an open field, start searching for an opening in the fence. There is also a new addition next to the opening – a stone marking the new Sanhedrin Trail (in Hebrew: שביל הסנהדרין). This is the beginning of the Ilan Trail.
Here’s a map that might help you find your way to the trail:
The trail was extremely nice! Even the way down to the trail from Kiryat Tiv’on is pleasant. You walk through a wood and on both sides of the road are some really nice houses, beloinging to people from Kiryat Tiv’on. It’s really quiet and you can hear birds chirping in the trees.
Then you arrive at an open field, find the opening in the fence (that’s marked with a green trail marker). Near the opening is a sign telling a bit about the place. Unfortunately, it’s only in Hebrew, but here’s a translation of what it says: “Memorial Site in memory of Ilan Gabai. Ilan Trail – 20 minutes’ walk. Dear travelers! You have reached a memorial site and to one of the largest Mount Tabor oaks in Israel… Please respect this place and the place will respect you. It is forbidden to light fire! Please keep the place clean. There are no garbage cans along the way, so please take a garbage bag with you. Please do not harm the wildlife , the plants and any of the things along the way.”
So the starting point of the trail is the large Mount Tabor oak, which once was alive, but today is dead. It stands in its place as memory, supported by wooden beams. Even though it has no leaves, it is still quite impressive.
We turned left onto the blue marked trail and began the short hike. Yeah, it’s only 20-30 minutes, but it is fantastic. Trees all around you, animals walking in between the bushes, birds chirping in the trees, and then suddenly the trail opens to a wide open space and the view of the Jezreel Valley lies straight ahead.
We kept walking on the trail and saw in the distance two girls sitting next to a large rock, painting it. When we passed by, we saw a new trail mark we haven’t ever seen before. “What are you marking?” I asked the two girls, both dressed in the blue uniform of the youth movement, HaNoar HaOved VeHaLomed (meaning: “The Working and Learning Youth”). “We’re marking the Sanhedrin Trail,” one of them replied and then pointed to the east, “That way is to the sea and this way,” pointing to the direction we just came from, “is to Beit She’arim”. Beit She’arim was, in fact, one of the places where the Jewish Sanhedrin sat when it was moving from place to place.
We thanked the girls and kept on walking towards the Big pistacia tree, which unlike the Mount Tabor oak, is still alive and overlooking the Jezreel Valley. Next to the tree is another memorial site, an observation point named after Sharon Chen, who died in 2014 at the age of 20. On the sign that stands in the observation point, it says: “Was born and raised in Kibbutz Alonim. Was a professional bike rider, part of the Israeli national team and Israel’s champion in road biking. Even though the IDF recognized him as an excellent sportsman, he prefered to join the army and serve in the elite unit of Egoz. Sharon fell while serving his duty. His organs were donated to five people, and this way he granted new life to five souls in Israel. The observation point was built by his friends from the Egoz unit and his friends from Kibbutz Alonim. May he rest in peace”.
From the big pistacia tree, we retraced our tracks to the junction, where the blue marked trail meets the green marked trail. We took the green marked trail and went with it all the way back to the Mount Tabor oak, passing again through the beautiful wood.
We returned through the same road to Kiryat Ti’von, but you can choose to try out the Sanhedrin Trail. I’ve understood from the people I met on the trail that the part from Beit She’arim to the big pistacia tree is marked (the marker is green-red-blue). It’s recommended to send a message to the Sanhedrin Trail before going on the trail, just to make sure it’s ready for you. Get in touch with them through their Facebook Page.
The whole trail, including the way to the trail and back from the trail and the stops along the way, takes about one hour. Please don’t forget to bring a hat, sunscreen and water with you!
Visiting Alexander Zaid’s Statue:
Before entering the Beit She’arim National Park, we saw a road leading up to a hill right next to the park’s entrance. Next to the road going up the hill is a “No Entry” traffic sign, a green sign and beneath it a yellow sign. On the green sign it says in Hebrew: “To Alexander Zaid’s Statue” and on the yellow sign: “Dead Visitor, do not leave your belongings in your car, as it might get stolen”. We parked our car next to the hill and walked up by foot. If you don’t have a car, you can get here by hiking from the Ilan Trail in Kiryat Ti’von to Beit She’arim by the Sanhedrin Trail, or any other way you find convenient.
It’s a short climb up and then the statue appears, standing on top of the hill. At first you’ll see Zaid’s back, but when you’ll get closer you’ll be able to see Zaid at his best. He’s sitting on his horse, looking over the Jezreel Valley.
A Bit About Alexander Zaid:
Alexander Zaid was a very important figure in the time of the Second Aliyah. He was one of the founders of the Jewish defense organizations, Bar Giora and HaShomer. HaShomer (meaning: “The Guard”) was a very successful organization, with just about 120-160 members throughout all its years of activity. The Shomrim, which were the members of HaShomer, started their activity in 1909. The guarded Jewish settlements and worked in the field, things that up until that year were not done by Jewish people, but rather by the local Arabs. The Shomrim wanted the Jewish people to take care of themselves. In 1920, when the Jewish organization of the Haganah (meaning: “Defense”) was established, HaShomer was disbanded.
Many of the Shomrim refused to give up their weapons to the Haganah and thought that HaShomer should keep on operating, so they worked secretly, beind the Haganah’s back. Zaid and his wife, Tzippora, did not like what their freinds from HaShomer are doing and so decided to leave the settlement in which they had lived together with other people from Hashomer, Kfar Giladi. They moved to Sheikh Abreik in the Jezreel Valley in 1926, and Zaid became a guard on behalf of the Jewish National Fund. He was one of the people who later discovered some of the remainings of Beit She’arim.
On the night of July 11, 1938, Zaid was on his way to see how the people of the neighboring Kibbutz Alonim were doing. Unfortunately, he was shot by an Arab gangster and killed that very night. The statue that stands on the hill above Beit She’arim National Park is a memorial for his memory.
A few steps away from the statue:
If you keep on going in the direction of Zaid’s stare, you’ll see a nice building with two domes over it. This building is known as Sheikh Abreik’s Grave. The legend tells that there once was an elder Muslim man who lived here, called Sheikh Abreik. He served a rich man, who wanted him to work in the field. Sheikh Abrei was a religious man and so he made sure to pray five times a day, like every Muslim is commanded. According to the Muslim religion, he also had to wash his hands and feet before every prayer. That is why he always took a jug full of water with him. The jug is called Abreik in Arabic.
One day, the man’s employee saw that the man was praying for too long. He got angry, took the man’s jug and threw it onto the ground, smaching it into many pieces. But, that didn’t stop the elder man from praying. He cried to Allah and water started bursting out of the ground, right where the jug was ruined.
A few days afterward, the man’s employee got ill. He understood that he had gotten ill because of what he had done to Sheikh Abreik, so he asked him what can he do to recieve his forgiveness. The Sheikh replied: “Where the sin was done – there you will find my forgiveness”. And so, they went together to the place, where water was still bursting out of the ground. The employee washed himself in the water and got much better.
Of course, Sheikh Abreik got very famous after this story and when he died, his bones were buried here, under those two domes. That’s what the legend tells us.
After those places, you can also visit, of course, Beit She’arim National Park. Those three places should close at least half a day of your travels. Wish you all a splendid time in the Jezreel Valley and Lower Galilee!
Oh, and if you do visit Beit She’arim National Park, don’t forget about Israel Nature and Parks Authority’s Money Saving Tickets. Read about them here.
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