By Anessa V. Cohen
As most of you know by now, the chagim are a time that I run to be in Israel, and I get the most of the excitement over there during the Yomim Noraim. This year I once again ran to daven in the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem for Yom Kippur.
For those of you that have not had this amazing experience of being in the Great Synagogue for Yom Kippur, let me share. They have a wonderful chazzan who, together with a large choir, makes you feel like you are listening to a davening from the clouds! Even if you are not into chazzanut—which I realize there are those that are not—you cannot help but be greatly moved by the experience. The most unusual aspect of davening there on Yom Kippur is what happens when you reach the part in the davening when the Kohen Gadol comes out alive and safe. Would you believe, they start singing and pull all the men up to dance around the shul like it is a wedding celebration! I have never seen this done anywhere, and those whom I have asked tell me this is only done in the Great Synagogue. Needless to say, with all the exciting davening there, the day goes by like the blink of the eye and before you know it the fast is over.
In between yom tov days, we looked for new and exciting things to do while in Israel. Jerusalem has seen a lot of new construction—geared for enjoyment of the masses—since Barkat has become mayor.
Some very new places of interest have turned up, which of course I had to check out so I could tell you all about them! One of those places is a new boardwalk and pedestrian mall that has been created around the original Jerusalem train station which was built in 1910. This station has been standing vacant next to the Khan Club off Derech Hebron for many years with the derelict train tracks looking very sad and full of weeds behind it.
It has now been totally renovated into a project reminiscent of our South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan. The old station is full of beautiful old photographs from its heyday in the early 1900s, and a boardwalk incorporating the old railroad tracks (without removing them) has transformed this area into a delightful location with many restaurants, as well as artist vendors hawking their wares.
This area is very child-friendly with electric cars and Segways that can be rented, arts-and-crafts areas, and a bungee jump area. Some of the old train cars are also on display and there is a large parking lot. An extended boardwalk going for several miles along one of the tracks has become a popular place for running, jogging, and bike riding.
Speaking of child-friendly places, one of the more interesting trips we took, looking to entertain our grandchildren, was to the African Animal Safari in Ramat Gan. This is a truly unique trip to take the children on while in Israel.
We entered by car driving through a dirt road surrounded by ibex, zebras, rhinos, and a large assortment of other animals moving in between the cars as we drove. This road ended in a parking lot at the entrance of a large zoo. We were offered the option of renting a golf cart to drive through the zoo and took them up on this offer immediately. You can rent a 4- or 6–8-seat golf cart by the hour; it has a roof cover that offers wonderful shade on a hot day as you meander through the zoo. Since you are only driving an average of 5 miles per hour, you can stop at each exhibit while the kids pile off and on the golf cart, without having to get off that often, and you can literally go through the entire zoo without getting exhausted. There were some creative touches in this zoo, such as clear dome pop-ups in some of the more exotic exhibits—where the kids can crawl in and feel like they are in the middle of an animal’s cage without being in any danger. A petting zoo and pony rides are also offered.
When you exit the zoo and start driving out of the parking lot, there is a second safari area where you can drive among families of lions, rhinos, hippos, and other large animals. The animals literally come within inches of the cars, so it is a really upfront experience. This is a high-security area and highly monitored for those of you a little gun-shy, and this place is too good to miss. Ironically, this was the last place I’d thought to find in Israel.
My granddaughter Eliana, though, had plenty to say, since she could not find any kangaroos! When asked, we found out that further up north there is a kangaroo ranch that can be visited separately—go figure! This will definitely be a destination for our next trip! v
Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker and a licensed N.Y.S. mortgage broker with over 20 years of experience, offering full-service residential and commercial real-estate services (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and mortgaging services (First Meridian Mortgage) in the Five Towns and throughout the tri-state area. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, www.AVCrealty.com. Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to anessa.cohen@AVCrealty.com.