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The Golan Heights have always had a calling for me, even at a young age before I got into photography. The vast open landscapes, waterfalls, magnificent viewpoints, turquoise rivers, natural springs, incredible historic sites, and unique topography are all part of what make the Golan such an incredible place to visit and photograph. It was only fitting that my first art exhibit ever opened recently at one of the Golan's most incredible and highly toured sites, the Talmudic Village at Park Katzrin. Below, I'll share the 8 photographs currently on display at the park as well as the backstory behind them and the story of the park.
1. "Park Katzrin, The Synagogue"
My favorite subject to photograph is the amazing historic sites scattered across Israel. In a land full of rich history, no matter where you go there's an amazing find just waiting to be uncovered. One of these finds was the Talmudic Village of Park Katzrin in the Golan Heights, a 1,600-year-old village from the Talmud period. A few months ago I came to visit a friend working at the park and started talking to the manager of the place, Avinoam. When Avinoam saw my pictures, he suggested that I set up an exhibit at the park on one condition: I get some photographs of the park as well. Being that it's such an amazing historic site, I happily agreed. While touring the place initially to find some good compositions I kept on coming back to the glorious remains of the synagogue but unfortunately for me, it's usually covered by a large tarp. I mentioned this to Avinoam and he told me that they'll be removing the tarp for a week at the end of May for an event at the park. Realizing the tremendous opportunity in a small time frame, I made the 3-hour drive back up a few weeks later to capture the ancient synagogue in all its glory, gaining after-hour access at golden hour as the golden sunlight accentuated the marvelous designs from so long ago.
2. "The Overlooked"
The Sa'ar falls are one of the most spectacular viewpoints in Israel, but only for a few months. While they're dry for the majority of the year, every winter the snow melt from Mount Hermon flows into the Sa'ar riverbed creating a powerful flow of turquoise water with many pools and waterfalls along the way. One of the more popular spots along Sa'ar is this lookout point where you can see a double waterfall and Nimrod's Fortress above, an incredible historic site from the times of the crusades. Needless to say, it's a popular site for locals, travelers, tourists, and photographers alike. After many attempts to capture the full glory of this place I only had some mediocre results caused by either low water levels or bland lighting so this past winter I had to come back and try my luck again. Bear in mind that it's almost a 5-hour drive but that wasn't going to stop me from trying again. Well, this time everything finally played out perfectly. The waterfalls were gushing, the clouds in the sky turned an amazing shade of pink and the last bits of orange sunlight lit up the crusader castle on the mountain above which is almost impossible to notice in most photographs of these waterfalls.
3. "Heaven Meets Earth"
The Haon Cliffs Nature Reserve in the southern Golan Heights is one of those places that'll leave you mesmerized every step of the way. Founded in 1972, a few years after Israel captured the Golan Heights in the six-day war, the reserve overlooks the Kineret/Sea of Galilee, the settlements of Ein Gev and Haon, and the mountains of the Galil in the distance. The reserve has easily accessible walking paths as well as some more rugged hiking options, breathtaking viewpoints, and natural springs, and faces the direction of sunset making it a perfect place to visit for all ages.
Being able to travel peacefully through this area is hardly something to be taken for granted. Up until May 1967, the Syrians controlled the area and would use the high vantage point to fire at Israeli settlements below. In fact, the Israeli spy Eli Cohen used to tour this area with the Syrian military, providing Israel with invaluable intel.
On a cloudy winter day, shortly after I finished my military service in the IDF and started working as a guard on field trips, I got sent on a 3-day job with a group touring the Golan. The first day of the trip started at the southern edge of the reserve and we hiked over 10 kilometers overlooking the breathtaking views of the Kineret/Sea of Galilee. As the day shifted into late afternoon, the sun started to find some breaks in the overcast sky, showering the already breathtaking view with spectacular light rays. The yellow flowers that lined the trail matched perfectly with the cold blue atmosphere and as the light rays lit up the city of Tiberias and the Arbel Cliffs on the other side of the lake, I pulled out my camera and shot what is one of my most favorite pictures I've ever taken. In the distance on the left, you can make out the round shape of Mount Tabor, and all the way to the right, you can see the tall Mount Meron. All the glory of northern Israel in a magnificent show of light
4. "Frigid Luminance"
The Ayit Stream Waterfall lays dry most of the year but after a few days of heavy rain in the winter, it's a spectacular sight to see. Located right next to a parking lot off the main road and with paved paths, it's probably the most easily accessible waterfall viewpoint in all of Israel. A typical Golan waterfall, it's surrounded by basalt columns and eventually runs into the Kineret/Sea of Galilee. Being so easily accessible, I've visited many times over the years but none compared to the time I came after 2 intense days of rain. The water was roaring as I've never seen before, the flowers were in full bloom, and despite the intense cold, I walked back and forth over and over again looking for a composition that can try to do justice to such an intense scene and capture it in all its glory. As the skies turned darker and darker, set up the camera for a long exposure, capturing the movement of the roaring waterfall, then shifted the camera's focus to the flowers in the foreground and shot them at high shutter speed to keep them as sharp as possible. (On a print they REALLY stand out!) A rare scene captured forever.
5. "Galilean Pastels"
The Kineret/Sea of Galilee is one of my favorite places to visit and photograph in all of Israel. Surrounded by tall mountains and cliffs, fascinating historical sites, freshwater springs and streams, hot springs, viewpoints, and modern-day tourist attractions, the Kineret and the surrounding area is an absolute must to see and visit. Even in the Talmud, the region was highly praised. When discussing the name of the lake, Kineret, which literally means 'violin', the Talmud states that the fruit grown in Ginosar (off the shores of the Kineret) is "sweet like the sound of a violin". The region's also mentioned in Tanach in the book of Yehoshua where the cities of 'Kineret' and 'Reket' are mentioned in the list of fortified cities of the tribe of Naftali. The remains of these cities have been uncovered in modern times and make for a great spot to see an ancient archaeological site overlooking the Kineret. Some other fascinating archeological sites overlooking the lake are the Talmudic villages of Gamla, Chorazin, Arbel, the towns of Kursi, Susita, ancient Tiberias, and Capernaum.
I was lucky to spend the better part of a year living 15 minutes away from this beach and I'd come to visit often whether it was for a few-day camping trip or a quick sunset shoot.
This photograph was taken on one of those quick visits before sunset. As the sun dipped behind the Galil mountains and the city of Tiberias across the lake, the sky took on these soft and vibrant streaks of yellow and pink reflected in the water below. I pulled out a zoom lens to get closer to the colorful and calming ripples of the Kineret and the mountains in the distance and captured this peaceful, soothing scene of one of the most astonishing places in the land of Israel.
6. "Land of the Basalts"
Some of the Golan's biggest attractions are the cold and refreshing streams that flow through the mountains and eventually into the Kineret, creating many refreshing pools and waterfalls along the way. The Zavitan stream is one of the most popular ones with many different hiking options, a few different waterfalls which run all year long and are amazing to watch or to swim under for a massage, and a canyon that requires rappelling for the more adventurous travelers. While hiking back from the waterfall a few months ago, I passed by this pool surrounded by basalt columns. Caused by volcanic eruptions many years ago, basalt rock formations are one of the things that characterize the Golan and make it such a unique landscape. The warm sunlight hitting the columns from the side and the reflection into the still water below made them stand out even more while the reeds in the foreground lined up perfectly with the basalt columns. A perfect conclusion to a spectacular hike in the Golan.
7. "Park Katzrin, The Wine Press"
Part of what makes the Park Katzrin tour so unique is that they'll provide you with a guide who dresses up in ancient Talmudic garb and then shows the visitors reenactments of the way life was back then. One of the stations you"ll come to is the ancient press which can still be used today. The heavy wheel is effortlessly pulled by the wooden stick attached to it, crushing either grapes or olives to produce wine or oil. When I saw the mural on the wall behind the wheel depicting its use, I thought it would be really cool to have a picture of a real ancient press as well as a mural behind it depicting the way it was used in ancient times.
The Golan has some incredible sites to see and photograph and I highly recommend it. Beyond the nature sites, there's an abundance of tourist attractions which include wineries, fruit picking, kayaking on the Jordan River, lavender fields, the chocolate factory in Ein Zivan, and much more.
If you need some suggestions, please feel free to contact me. I also offer phototours, where I plan a custom-tailored trip and experience for you and include a professional photoshoot providing a 2-in1 unforgettable experience. Contact me for more details and mention this article for a huge discount!
If you're in the Katzrin area, I recommend going to check out Park Katzrin and of course, the exhibit. For more info on Park Katzrin, check out their website, https://parkatzrin.com/.
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