Ma’ayan Harod National Park is a delightful park located at the base of the Gilboa Mountain Range in the Harod Valley, the Harod Valley being an outlet of the Jezreel Valley. It has a large bathing pool. The spring is of interest because of its connection to the story of Gideon in the Book of Judges. For an inspiring story about early Zionist history, consider visiting the home of Yehoshua and Olga Hankin. This is a small museum connected to the park and it has an informative movie (in Hebrew). For adults, the Mishkan Museum of Art is only a short distance from here.
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.
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 and you will come to Gideon’s Cave. From here issues 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. If you are lucky the house will be open, but it is best to arrange your visit in advance. If the house is closed, a walk up to the house is still worthwhile if only for the view over the park.
Visiting the nearby Mishkan Museum of Art at Kibbutz Ein Harod. One might not expect this in the middle of the Jezreel Valley, but this is a real art gallery in a large facility with multiple exhibitions. It was started in 1938 and according to its brochure is consistently ranked as one of the top three museums in the country. 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, though, 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 MMonday to Thursday 9.00 am to 4.00 pm, Friday 10.00 am to 1.00 pm nd Saturday 10.00 to 2.00 pm. 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
The cafeteria is always open, although drinks etc are not always on sale.
The strange test at the Spring of Harod
One might assume that military leaders, including those described in the Bible, are resolute and courageous - otherwise they would not be chosen. At least initially, Gideon seemed to have neither of these attributes, even though the angel of God who recruited him called him a “mighty man of valor.” However, he did adopt 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 in response Gideon was called upon by an angel of God to lead an Israelite army. First, however, Gideon requested a sign from the angel that God was truly with him in this venture, and the angel proceeded to produce 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 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 for reassurance and these signs 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. Only 10,000 soldiers remained. However, this was still too many for this mission. God now described a test to Gideon. The men 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 to drink water were sent home.
One has to admit that this is an unusual test and various explanations have been proposed by Jewish commentators as to what it was supposed to accomplish. 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 this because they did not wish to create any semblance of idol worshipping. Another suggestion is that kneeling down signified subservience to Midian. However, there are those who take the exact opposite approach. The Jewish historian Josephus Flavius suggests that these 300 men were the the most inept. 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 usually recognized as an authentic Biblical commentator but his explanation is an interesting one!
Gideon now went in the middle of the night with this small party to the edge of the Midianite camp on the other side of the valley. The soldiers who had been selected were told to blow with their right hand on the trumpets, smash their pitchers, and to hold 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 rest of the Israelite warriors were now called back to attack the fleeing Midianites.
With considerable reassurance from God, Gideon had 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. Also, after he died, they again began worshipping Baal. As we can see from the Book of Judges, adopting pure monotheism was a continuous struggle 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 the 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, where both of them are buried.
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 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. His wife found 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 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 became 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. 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.
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.