Ma’ayan Harod National Park is a delightful park at the bottom of the Gilboa Mountain Range in the Harod Valley that has a large shallow wading pool. The Harod Valley opens into the Jezreel Valley. The spring is of interest because of its connection to the story of Gideon found in the Book of Judges. For an inspiring story from early Zionist history, consider visiting the former home of Yehoshua and Olga Hankin, which is now a small museum. An informative movie is shown in Hebrew.
Directions: Enter “Ma’ayan Harod” into Waze.
Admission: This is a park of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Hours in the summer are 8.00 am to 5.00 pm Sunday to Thursday and Saturday, and Fridays and holiday eves 8.00 am to 4.00 pm. The park closes one hour earlier in the winter. In the summer it is recommended to come early on Friday and Saturday as space may otherwise be limited. Their phone number is: 04 653-2211. This is their website.
Public transport: There are frequent buses between Afula and Beit Shean. Enter "Maayan Harod" into Moovit. The closest bus stop is a 1.8-Km/22-minute walk from the park.
The park has plenty of shaded picnic benches on its green lawns, WCs, and a store selling snack foods and hot and cold drinks. There is a large wading pool suitable for children. It is not shaded. Walk along the stream in the direction of the Gilboa Mountains and you will come to Gideon’s Cave from where issues a bubbling spring.
On either side of the spring is a path to the home of Yehoshua and Olga Hankin. Yehoshua dedicated his life to buying land in then Palestine for the Jewish people. If you are lucky the museum will be open, but it is best to check on this in advance. If the house is closed, a walk up to the house is still worthwhile if only for the view over the park. This is their (Hebrew) website.
The cafeteria is always open, although drinks etc are not always on sale.
A strange Biblical test at Harod Spring
One might assume that all military leaders, including those described in the Bible, would be resolute and courageous - otherwise they would not be chosen as a military leader. At least initially, Gideon seemed to have neither of these attributes, although the angel of God who recruited him did call him a “mighty man of valor,” possibly to reassure him. Nevertheless, he adopted a military strategy that will continue to be valued throughout Jewish history. Recognizing the limitations of his inexperienced tribal army, he used brain power rather than military might to overcome his enemy.
As told in the Book of Judges (chapters 7 to 9), the Midianites had been crossing the Jordan River and making scorched earth raids into the hill country for seven years and this was devastating Jewish agriculture and life. The Israelites cried out to God, and in response an angel of God called upon Gideon to lead an Israelite army. First, however, Gideon requested a sign that God was truly with him in this venture. The angel therefore produced a fire that consumed a sacrifice Gideon had prepared. Gideon was now asked to destroy his father’s altar to Baal and the asherah (sacred pillars) in the village and to erect an altar and make sacrifices to God. However, Gideon was only prepared to do this during the night and he relied upon his father to save him the next day from the villagers’ wrath.
Gideon now called upon the tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali for fighters. In the meantime, Gideon requested two further signs from God, and these were duly provided. Thirty-two thousand soldiers showed up at his encampment at Ein Harod. However, this was too many for what God intended and he was told to send home all those who were fearful. Ten thousand men remained. This was still too many for this mission and God described a test to Gideon. The soldiers were to be observed while drinking from the spring water. Only 300 who scooped the water up with their hands and “and laps with his tongue as the dog laps” (Judges 7:5) were to be chosen, while those who knelt down while drinking were to be sent home.
This is an unusual test and various explanations have been proposed by Jewish Biblical commentators as to its purpose. One explanation is that of Rashi who assumes that those who knelt down were accustomed to idol worship. Similarly, a midrash (Yalkut Shimoni) suggests that those who did not kneel down refrained from doing so because they did not wish to create any semblance of idol worship. Another suggestion is that kneeling down signified subservience to Midian. However, there are those who take a very different approach. The Jewish historian Josephus Flavius suggests that the 300 men chosen were the most inept and stupid. This could be why they were compared to dogs in their drinking habits. The whole point of this test was to demonstrate God’s role in this battle and not the skill of the warriors. Josephus is not considered a traditional Biblical commentator but his explanation is an interesting one!
Gideon now went with this small party to the edge of the Midianite camp on the other side of the valley in the middle of the night. The soldiers selected were told to blow with their right hand on the trumpets, smash their pitchers, and hold up their torches while shouting “For the Lord and for Gideon” (ibid 7:18). This was sufficient to cause panic in the Midianite camp, which assumed it was being attacked by a large Israelite army. The Midianites attacked each other while fleeing in panic. The rest of the Israelite army was now called back to attack the fleeing Midianites.
After considerable reassurance from God, Gideon had demonstrated the courage and resolve one would anticipate from a military leader. Unintentionally, however, he led the Israelites astray by melting captured golden nose rings and pendants into a huge ephod or belt. He kept this in his town and people began worshipping it. Also, after his death, they again began worshipping Baal. As can be appreciated from the Book of Judges, practicing pure monotheism was a continuing challenge for the Jews of this period.
The Hankins - a couple on a mission
The Hankins were a couple with a mission – to buy land in then Palestine.
In their old age, they decided to settle in the Jezreel Valley on land they had purchased, and in 1932 they began building a home above Gideon’s Cave in the popular Bauhuas style. They never lived there. Olga, who was twelve years older than Yehoshua, died in 1942 at age 90, and Yehoshua decided to make their house into a museum dedicated to telling the story of their land purchases and settlement in the Jezreel and Harod Valleys. He also built a tomb for his wife adjacent to their home.
One senses that this whole site is a memorial to Yehoshua’s wife who was the love of his life. He married her when she was 36 years old and 12 years older than he was. She supported him while working as a midwife. (She may well have been the first professional midwife in Palestine). They had no children. As the author and the citrus grower Moshe Smilansky wrote in 1946: “On Mount Gilboa, facing his mighty land enterprise in the Jezreel Valley, Hankin dug a grave for her. He had prepared these graves here for her and for himself while she was still alive. He mourned deeply for the companion who had shared in all his life’s work. Year after year he visited her grave, accompanied by the children of the Jezreel Valley and their teachers.” He died two years later, in November 1945, and was buried alongside Olga.
Joshua (1864-1945) was born in the Russian Empire and moved with his parents to Rishon Le Zion and then to Gedera. He befriended local Arabs and in 1890 they helped him arrange his first land purchase, which would become the land for Rehovot. Olga found out about this land offering when delivering the infant of a wealthy Christian Arab from Jaffa. This was followed by his purchase of land for Hadera.
His first purchase was with money lent to him by his father. Later purchases left him penniless and he was supported by his wife who paid off his debts. Later, his purchases were paid for by the Palestine Office of the Zionist Organization. Not infrequently, he would buy land and then persuade organizations to pay for it. In 1932, he was appointed head of the Palestine Land Development Corporation.
By the time of his death at age 80, he had been responsible for most of the land purchases for the Zionist Organization throughout the breadth of the country. These purchases can be seen displayed on a map in the main room of his home. This included 3,500 dunam of land in the Jezreel Valley, which established Jewish continuity between the Jezreel and Beit She’an Valleys.
The park and Jezreel Valley from the Hankin home/museum.
Map of Joshua Hankin's extensive land purchases in Palestine displayed in his home/musuem.
Nearby place of interest:
The Mishkan Museum of Art at Kibbutz Ein Harod. One might not expect to find this in the Jezreel Valley, but this is a large, quality art gallery with multiple exhibitions. It was started in 1938 and is consistently ranked as one of the top three art museums in Israel. Its mission is to be a center for Israeli and contemporary art and art education. Since much of Israeli art is what one might call modern art, this is mainly what you see. There are, however, some displays of Jewish European art. An interesting 8-minute movie can be viewed.
Directions: Enter into Waze “Mishkan Museum” and click on “Mishkan Museum of Art, Ein Harod.” It is open Monday to Thursday 9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m., Friday 10.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. and Saturday 10.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m. It is closed on Sunday. Admission for adults is 46 NIS and for seniors and soldiers 23 NIS (but check on current prices). Their phone number is 04-648 6038. This is their (Hebrew) website