More than half a million people spent some part of the Rosh Hashanah holiday visiting Israel's forests, nature reserves and national parks, according to figures released by the Jewish National Fund and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA ).
A majority of visitors to INPA sites (300,000 ) gravitated to water - 10,000 to Habonim beach on the northern Mediterranean coast, about 8,000 to Hurshat Tal National Park in the Hula Valley, and another 8,000 each to the Banias and Snir streams in the Golan foothills. Some 6,000 people ventured to Apollonia National Park north of Herzliya, many for the kite festival that was held there. About the same number made their way to Ashkelon National Park.
The most popular Jewish National Fund sites during the holiday week were the Menashe Forest in the Carmel foothills, the Hazorea Forest in the western Jezreel Valley, the Birya and Goren forests in the northern Galilee mountains, and the Hula Valley's Lake Agmon.
About 1,500 people turned out for a rally in the Sharon Park, south of Hadera, sponsored by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel to expand the coastal highway rather than pave a new road through the park.
In the south of the country, Eilat hotels were running at high capacity, according to Shabtai Shai, CEO of the Eilat Hotel Association. Visitors to the Coral Beach Nature Reserve south of Eilat were treated to a rare spectacle - a three-day low tide that left parts of the reef high and dry.
Meanwhile, undeterred by travel warnings of a possible terror attack in Sinai, over 15,000 travelers crossed the border from Eilat to Taba, Egypt, according to the Israel Airports Authority. Most made their way to Sharm el-Sheikh, the majority of whom were Muslims celebrating Id al-Fitr, the three-day holiday marking the end of Ramadan.
Most of the Muslim world marks the end of Id al-Fitr today. While the holiday begins with the appearance of the new moon, scientists and religious leaders disagree as to timing of that event. Muslims in Israel and the Palestinian Authority mark the holiday according to the Saudi announcement of the new moon, along with most of the world's Muslims.
The holiday's coinciding with the beginning of the school year has resulted in a financial burden for the poor. Charity groups, which channel contributions by Muslims who according to Islamic law must assist the less fortunate if their income exceeds their debts, distributed aid to thousands of needy families.
Not only were the roads clogged on the eve of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, so were the communications networks, with record numbers of cell phone users texting each other a happy new year.
According to reports, Pelephone subscribers' messages were particularly prone to glitches or late arrivals. Pelephone said subscribers would not be charged for text messages that did not arrive. The company said 40 million cell phone text messages had been sent this Rosh Hashanah, twice the number sent last year.
According to a survey published by Pelephone, about 70 percent of Israelis will send new year's greetings via text message.
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