April 25, 2007 / 7 Iyar 5767
All roads led to the North during the two intermediate days of Passover, as over 110,000 Israelis and tourists participated in the Jewish Agency's incredible array of free activities throughout the region. The activities, funded by the Jewish Agency and its partner Keren Hayesod, included walking and guided bicycle tours from the Galilee to the Golan as well as exciting four-wheel-drive routes, children's activities, shows and a major multicultural performance each night featuring Israel's most popular performers.
Interviewed on Israel radio, Moshe Vigdor, Director General of the Jewish Agency remarked, "The response to this campaign was incredible. Citizens from all over the country, regardless of their economic situation, were able to get out and enjoy themselves. At the same time, the tourism industry that was hit hard during the Second Lebanon War and is still suffering was given a tremendous financial boost."
A visit to one of the festivals on the shores of the Monfort Lake situated next to the low-income, northern town of Ma'alot–Tarshiha, revealed people in paddle boats and canoes touring the lake which is adorned with fountains and ringed by weeping willows. The path surrounding the lake was lined with booths selling everything from ethnic jewelry, hats, colorful oriental bags and summer clothes to local produce such as olives, olive oil and Druze pita bread made with special matza flour.
Activities for children abounded. Levana Sharmir visited the petting corner with her two-year-old daughter, Leehee (see photo above). Surrounded by rabbits, ducklings and a baby goat, the seven-months-pregnant Levana said, "We heard about this festival from a friend and we came all the way from a settlement near Jerusalem to be here. It’s hard to find ways to entertain young children, but this is ideal for us and the fact that it is free is an added bonus."
Among the numerous activities available were a juggling workshop and a craft corner where children and parents alike could try their hands at creating mosaics, pottery and wood sculptures. Easels were set up along the river for budding young artists and there was a darbuka circle where everyone was invited to pick up one of the Middle Eastern tom-tom drums and join the circle of musicians.
Ofir Simchee (m) and his son Guy enjoy the darbuka drums.
Ofir Simchee sat in one such circle with his eight-month-old son Guy and his wife Renat. Ofir, a sales executive from Rosh Ha'ayin, saw the advertisement for the festival on the internet and drove two hours up from the center of the country to be there. "It’s a long way to come," said Ofir, "but of course knowing that it is free helped us with our decision. Now that we're here I can say that it was well worth the effort."
Ellen Lavin and her husband Don also joined the darbuka circle. They came to Israel from Chicago to visit their daughter Erica, who together with her husband and one-year-old son, made aliyah just four weeks ago. They settled in the northern town of Nahariya. Ellen enthusiastically praised the Jewish Agency for the holiday events. "It’s wonderful what the Jewish Agency is doing to help the people in the North," she exclaimed. "There are wonderful things here for children and it is truly an event for the whole family."
On the sweeping lawns next to the lake, a comedian took the stage to perform in front of a large crowd that was sprawled on the grass. Over the two days of the festival, entertainment included comedians, children's television personalities and well-known local singers.
Tal Doron was just one of the people enjoying the entertainment. A local to the region, Tal is a holistic therapist with two young children. "Normally, we take our children to outdoors events and we see and do everything in about two hours,” she said. “Today, we've been here longer than that and we are still only half way around. It's great that it's free. The whole thing has been organized with such love and patience; it gives us a wonderful feeling that donors so far away care about us."
Thousands of people enjoyed the activities on the shores of the Montfort Lake.
The campaign included something for all age groups, including teenagers. Ma'ayan Ayelegne from Jerusalem got a call from her cousin in Tiberias telling her that Sarit Hadad would be performing a free concert as part of the festival. Within an hour, Ma'ayan was on a bus heading north. "I love Sarit Hadad and I was so excited,” she said. “But I never would have gone if it hadn't been for free." Ma’ayan’s American-born mother Nina, who made aliyah over 20 years ago, was also excited about the activities. "I didn't know the Jewish Agency was offering so much during Passover until I heard an ad on the radio,” she said. “It's great the way they are doing things for all of the people of Israel and helping the North."