Ma’ayan Harod National Park is a delightful park located at the base of the Gilboa Mountain Range in the Harod Valley, which is an outlet of the Jezreel Valley. The spring is of Biblical interest because of its connection to the story of Gideon in the Book of Judges. For an inspiring story about early Zionist history, one can visit the home of Yehoshua and Olga Hankin. It is connected to the park and has been made into a small museum. An informative movie is shown in Hebrew.

The park has plenty of shaded picnic benches, WCs, and a store selling snack foods and hot and cold drinks. There is a large wading pool suitable for children, its depth being up to an adult’s knees. It is not shaded. Walk a bit further along the stream in the direction of the Gilboa Mountains you come to Gideon’s Cave. This has a bubbling spring, which is the source of the water for the stream. Camping sites are offered in the park.

 

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.

THE PARK

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 Fridays and Saturdays as space may be limited. Their phone number is: 04 653-2211

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Gideon’s test at the Spring of Harod

 

One might assume that military leaders making it into the Bible would be resolute and courageous. At least initially, Gideon seemed to have none of these attributes, even though he was called a “mighty man of valor” by the angel of God who recruited him. However, 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 7-9), 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 life and its agriculture. The Israelites cried out to God, and Gideon was called upon to lead a Jewish army. First, however, Gideon requested a sign from the angel of God that his Boss was with him in this venture, and the angel of God produced a fire that consumed a sacrifice Gideon had prepared. Gideon was now asked by God to destroy his father’s altar to Baal and the asherah (or sacred pillars) in the village, and to erect an altar and make sacrifices to God. However, Gideon was only prepared to do this at night and he relied on his father to save him the next day from the villagers’ wrath.

 

Gideon now called on the tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali for fighters. In the meantime, Gideon requested two further signs from God to reassure himself, and these signs were duly provided. Thirty-two thousand soldiers shown up at his encampment at Ein Harod. However, this was too many for what God intended and God told him to send home all those who were fearful. Only 10,000 soldiers remained. However, this was still too many for this mission. God now described a test to Gideon, in that the men were to be observed while drinking from the spring water. Only the 300 who scooped the water up with their hands and “and laps with his tongue as the dog laps” (Judges 7:5) were chosen, while those who knelt down to drink the water were sent home.

 

This is an unusual type of test and various explanations have been proposed by Jewish commentators as to what it was supposed to achieve. One explanation is that of Rashi who assumes that those who knelt down were accustomed to idol worship. Similarly, a midrash (Yalkut Shimon) suggests that those who did not kneel down refrained from doing this because they did not wish to create any semblance to idol worshipping. Another suggestion is that kneeling down signified subservience to Midian. There are those, however, who take the exact opposite approach. The Jewish historian Josephus Flavius suggests that these 300 men were actually the ineptest. The whole point of this test was to demonstrate God’s role in the battle and not the warriors. Josephus is not regarded as a sage or recognized as a Biblical commentator, but his explanation is an interesting one!

 

Gideon then 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 and the soldiers selected blew with their right hand on the trumpets, smashed their pitchers, and held up their torches while shouting “For the Lord and for Gideon” (ibid 7:18). This was enough 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 Israelite warriors were then called back to attack the fleeing Midianites.

 

With considerable help from God, Gideon demonstrated the courage one would anticipate from a military leader. However, unintentionally, he led the Israelites astray by melting captured golden nose rings and pendants into a huge ephod or belt. He kept this in his own city and people began worshipping it. They also began worshipping Baal again after Gideon died. This is the recurrent struggle of the Jews of this period in adopting pure monotheism from the time of the Egyptian exodus until their exile to Babylon.

Who were the Hankins?

 

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 Bauhuas style, which was then very popular. They never lived there. Olga, who was twelve years older than Yehoshua, died in 1942 at age 90, and Yehoshua decided to make the 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 the house, and both of them are buried here.

 

One almost 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 working him 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 beside 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 they helped him with his first land purchase in 1890, which was the land of Rehovot. His wife was the first to find out about this land offering when delivering the child of a wealthy Christian Arab of Jaffa. This was followed by his purchase of the land of 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 became head of the Palestine Land Development Corporation.

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The park and Jezreel Valley from the Hankin home.

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Map of Joshua Hankin's extensive land purchases in Palestine displayed in the musuem.

By the time of his death at age 80, he was responsible for most of the land purchases for the Zionist Organization throughout the breadth of the country. His purchases can be seen on a map in the main room. This includes 3,500 dunam of land in the Jezreel Valley. This established Jewish continuity between the Jezreel and Beit She’an Valleys.