Maybe it’s raining or it’s snowing. Maybe you are tired. Maybe you are COVID-parenting these days and responsibly social distancing. The children are starting to whine that they want to go somewhere! SOMEWHERE? But where? Well, how about telling the children, “OK, let’s go to Israel” or “Let’s go to India. Quick, Elie, Benjamin, Adina, grab the computer and we can be off! Our first stop will be Israel and later we will learn about the Jews in India.”
The Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem is popularly known as the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. The zoo is located in the Malha neighborhood of Jerusalem. There are over 65 acres to explore. When the zoo was established, all the animals were those mentioned in the Bible. During the years, the zoo has grown and many other species from around the world have been added, especially animals that are endangered. For example, the elephants. Elephants are not mentioned in the Bible, but their tusks are. Teddy is one of the most popular elephants at the zoo. He is named in honor of former mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek. Elephants Suzan and Michaella also live at the zoo.
The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo has saved several biblical species that were on the verge of extinction, and some that still are on the verge of extinction. The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo has the Fallow Deer, which were extinct from the wild in Israel and were returned by the zoo, the Reshut Hateva V’haganim (the Israel Nature and Parks Authority) and other groups. It also has the Palestinian Gazelle, which lives in Israel and other countries, the Syrian Brown Bear and the Negev Tortoise. Another interesting exhibit is the Short Jaw Tristramella, a threatened freshwater fish that lives only in the Sea of Galilee. Dor’s Loach, a critically endangered freshwater fish that lives only in a tiny area in Israel, is kept off-display. The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo also has the Griffon Vulture.
Elie, Benjamin and Adina can also enjoy areas where visitors can get close to the animals. The Children’s Zoo has farm animals and pets, with areas where visitors can see the animals up-close, including the Australian exhibit, the Lemurs, the Lory Parrots and more. Everyone can take a train through a wildlife habitat where animals are allowed to roam free of restraints.
Signs at the zoo are in three languages: Hebrew, English and Arabic. One exhibit, showing the Collared Pekari, also includes Yiddish. The sign “Das is nicht a chazir” in bold red letters lets visitors know that this animal, while it looks a lot like a pig, is not a pig. There are no pigs at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. The Collared Pekari is a pig imposter!
Mom Ava can make this virtual trip to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo even more fun for her children by assigning them different exhibits to see over several days. She can also prepare fun sheets for them to complete while viewing videos. The children can count and write the names of the animals and sea life that they see and write a sentence or two about why they like this particular animal or what was interesting to them about this creature. Mom can write clues for the children to read and then match with a particular animal, or even create an indoor scavenger hunt. The children can complete the “Animal Activities to Do at Home” section of the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo and they can also read the “What’s in The Garden” section of the website to learn more.
So many ways to make this virtual visit fun and educational for the whole family. Website: http://www.jerusalemzoo.org.il/org.il Videos from the Zoo’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDRyBNzTpx_hn_y7cL0fMlw?view_as=subscriber. Videos with English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oYXs6p-nxo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oYXs6p-nxo://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oYXs6p-nxo
For a more class-like virtual trip for the children and family, a virtual visit to the Biblical Museum of Natural History is a great option. Located in Beit Shemesh, this museum is unique and describes itself as “part zoo, part natural history museum and part Torah education center.” The mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects found in the Bible are showcased, as well as related zoological topics from the Talmud. There are taxidermy specimens of the larger species and live exhibits of smaller species. There are also a large number of biological artifacts of religious significance. The museum is about learning the identities and symbolism of the animals of the Bible; lessons in Jewish values, law and history; and the natural history of Biblical Israel.
The museum’s live online programs are perfect for going SOMEWHERE when actual physical travel is not possible. Ava and her family can enjoy interactive tours of exhibits during which they can ask questions. A basic tour that zooms around the entire museum is designed to give a taste of each of the exhibit halls. This tour is suitable for very young children with limited attention spans. There are also seven in-depth tours, each taking place in a different hall. Choices include: 1. The Animal World of the Bible; 2. Beasts and Behemoths; 3. The Laws of Kosher Creatures; 4. Horns and Shofars; 5. The World of Birds; 6. Reptiles and Creepy-Crawlies; and 7. The Wonders of Creation. The Biblical Museum of Natural History seeks to make biblical texts and Torah tradition come alive. Website: www.biblicalnaturalhistory.org
But now the adults want to see more of Israel, just with other adults. So maybe it would be nice to have a licensed tour guide. The Jewish National Fund (JNF) virtual tour provides this option. Since early May, JNF-USA has hosted 4,200 individuals on virtual Zoom tours to Israel. Just “board the bus” with other participants and you are off to biblical and modern Israel, famous tourist attractions, sites that are off the beaten path, JNF projects and places, and more. A week of live touring for an hour a day (Monday through Thursday) includes such sites as the Old City of Jerusalem, the Ayalon Institute, Rosh HaNikra, Akko, JNF’s Sderot Indoor Recreation Center, Be’er Sheva, Timna Park and more. After touring and a short break, you can log back in for a one hour social dinner/cocktail hour. Friday will feature a one-hour pre-Shabbat experience.
While JNF-USA continues to host tours open to the general public, the organization has also facilitated hundreds of private bespoke tours for local synagogues, temples, community groups and families with teens and younger children. Several tours for high school teens and college students have already taken place. For those looking to organize or take part in a JNF-USA virtual tour geared towards children, teens and young families, contact Rebecca Cohen at [email protected] or 212-879-9305 x256.
What if families want to experience another country? Well, we can be off on a virtual tour of amazing Jewish India. Yes, there are Indian Jews! Rahel Musleah, journalist, author, singer and educator born in India shares her unusual Jewish heritage in many virtual programs that explore India and its four different Jewish communities. For school-age children and families, Rahel offers an interactive presentation “Have You Heard the News? There are Indian Jews!” in which you can visit synagogues, discover really cool customs for Shabbat and holidays, and explore your own background.
Rahel also offers an array of program choices for adults, including Namaste and Shalom: A Virtual Tour of Jewish India; Synagogues of India; Jewish Calcutta Through Music and Memory; The Personal Story of a Baghdadi Jewish Family; and The Jews of Iraq, From Babylonian Exile to Today. There are programs targeted to Jewish holidays, like Apples and Pomegranates: A Seder for Rosh Hashanah, Rice on Pesach and lots more. A special series called NamaStay at Home with Explore Jewish India invites guests with expertise in cooking, yoga, mixology and different aspects of Indian-Jewish life. Most of these programs can also be adapted for children and families. For more information contact [email protected], and be sure to sign up for her newsletter to keep current on which tours are offered and when they are scheduled.
So, even if sometimes things seem restricted, there are still ways for us, our families and friends to travel and explore our Jewish world. B”H, we can say, “What a wonderful world!”
Susan R. Eisenstein is a long-time Jewish educator, passionate about creating special innovative activities for her students. She is also passionate about writing about Jewish topics and writing about Israel. Susan has two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education from Columbia University.