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Ma’ayan Harod National Park is a delightful park at the foot of the Gilboa Mountain Range with a large shallow wading pool. Its spring is of interest because of its connection to the story of Gideon described in the Book of Judges. Consider also visiting the former home of Yehoshua and Olga Hankin, now a small museum, for an inspiring story from the early Zionist period. It is on a slope above the spring and is open for groups with prior coordination.


Directions: Enter “Ma’ayan Harod” into Waze.

Admission: This is a park of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The 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.

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The park has plenty of shaded picnic benches on its green lawns, restrooms, 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. This is the spring associated with Gideon as told in the Book of Judges.


A camping area is open for individuals and families from Pesach to Succoth with showers and restrooms, drinking water, refrigerators, a freezer, electric outlets, picnic tables and cubicles for re-charging mobile phones. The season is longer for groups. To book a camping site call the main park number.


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. Their home is now a museum which is only open to groups with prior coordination, but you may be fortunate and find it open when you come. It is also open for guided tours on religious holidays. An informative movie is shown in Hebrew. A walk up to the house is very worthwhile even if the house is closed for its view over the park.

The cafeteria is always open, although drinks etc are not always on sale.

Gideon’s odd military test at Harod Spring


It is a common assumption that military leaders are resolute and courageous - otherwise they are in the wrong job. Initially at least, Gideon seemed to have neither of these attributes. The angel of God who recruited him did call him a “mighty man of valor,” although this may have been more in the way of reassurance than anything else. Nevertheless, Gideon used 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), for seven years the Midianites had been crossing the Jordan River and making scorched earth raids into the hill country, and this was devastating life and agriculture in the country. The Israelites cried out to God. In response, an angel of God called upon Gideon to lead an Israelite army. Before accepting, Gideon requested a sign that God was truly with him. The angel produced a fire that consumed a sacrifice Gideon had prepared. Gideon was then asked to destroy his father’s altar to Baal and the asherah (sacred pillars) in the village, and then 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, he 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 told him to send home all soldiers who were fearful. Ten thousand men remained. This was still too many and God described a test that Gideon should carry out. The soldiers were to be observed while drinking from the spring water. Only those who scooped up the water with their hands “and laps with his tongue as the dog laps” (Judges 7:5) were chosen. Three hundred men met these criteria, while those who knelt down while drinking were sent home.


This was a very odd test and various explanations of its purpose have been proposed by Jewish biblical commentators. One explanation is that of the well-known commentator Rashi who assumes that those who knelt down were accustomed to idol worship. In a similar vein, a midrash, the 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, a very different approach is taken by the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius who suggests that the 300 men chosen were the most inept and stupid, since this is hardly an efficient way for drinking water. This is why they would be compared to dogs in their drinking habits. (Dogs were not highly regarded in the biblical period). The purpose 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 in the middle of the night to the edge of the Midianite camp on the far side of the valley. 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 caused panic in the Midianite camp, which assumed it was being attacked by a large Israelite army. The Midianites began attacking each other and fled 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. After his death, the people again began worshipping Baal.


Practicing pure monotheism continued to be a challenge for the Israelites in the period of the judges.

The inspiring and romantic story of Yehoshua and Olga Hankin


The Hankins were a couple with a mission – to buy land in then Palestine.


Yehoshua (Joshua) was born in the Russian Empire and moved with his parents to Rishon LeZion in 1882 during the First Aliya and then to Gedera. He married Olga when she was 36 years old and 12 years older than he. She supported her husband while working as a midwife. (She may have been the first professional midwife in Palestine). They had no children.


Yehoshua befriended local Arabs and in 1890 they helped him arrange his first land purchase. Olga had found out about this land offering when delivering the infant of a wealthy Christian Arab from Jaffa. This would subsequently become the land for Rehovot. 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 his wife paid off his debts. Not infrequently, he would buy land and then persuade organizations to pay for it. Later purchases were paid for by the Palestine Office of the Zionist Organization. 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 includes 3,500 dunam of land in the Jezreel Valley, a purchase which established Jewish continuity between the Jezreel and Beit She’an Valleys.


In their old age, Yehoshua and Olga 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 Bauhaus 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 home into a museum dedicated to telling the story of their land purchases and Jewish 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. 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.

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The park and Jezreel Valley from the Hankin home/museum.

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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. You might be surprised to learn that there is a large, quality art gallery with multiple exhibitions in the Jezreel Valley. It was begun 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 for art education. Since much of Israeli art is modern art, this is mainly what you see, although there are 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.” The museum 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. There is an admission charge. The cafetaria is always open, although drinks are not always on sale. Their phone number is 04-648 6038.

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The Mishkin Museum of art.

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A garden in the Mishkin Museum of Art.

Links to the HOME PAGE and best family activities, hikes and historic sites in the GOLAN, EASTERN GALILEE, UPPER GALILEE, LOWER GALILEE, JORDAN VALLEY & LAKE KINNERET, the SHEFELAH, TEL AVIV-YAFFO and surroundings, NORTH of TEL AVIV, and SOUTH of TEL AVIV.

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