Israel with Kids / An Olympic family outing
Taking your kids out in Tel Aviv can be a test of strength, but the little-known Olympic Experience museum will make you feel like a gold-medal parent.
Truth be told, with all its excitement and hipness, Tel Aviv doesn't offer all that much in the way of things to do with kids – especially if sizzling on a scorching beach isn't your idea of fun or yours are the type of kids who roll their eyes at the mere mention of art museums.
So next time you're scratching your head trying to figure out how to keep the kids entertained on a hot Tel Aviv day, consider what might be one of the city's best-kept secrets: The Olympic Experience – a museum devoted entirely to the world's biggest and best-known sporting competition. Indeed, with the 2012 London summer games opening in just a few weeks, what better way to get your kids in the mood?
The museum, which opened about three years ago and is located on the second floor of the Olympic Building in Hadar Yosef, has five separate rooms (representing the five interlocking rings in the Olympic symbol), each one devoted to a specific theme. As visitors make their way from room to room, the Olympic story unfolds with the help of quite elaborate (if at times somewhat cheesy) audio-visual presentations.
In the "Ring of Fame" room, you can relive some of the great moments in Olympic history – from Mark Spitz winning his seventh gold medal to Nadia Comaneci achieving her perfect score.
The "Ring of History" room traces the origins of the games from ancient Greece, fast-forwarding many years later to their revival in the late 19th century.
The "Israeli Ring" focuses on the local angle, allowing visitors to experience some of the great moments in Israeli Olympic history, from Yael Arad becoming the country's first medalist, winning the silver in judo in 1992, to Gal Fridman winning the gold in windsurfing in 2004.
Obviously, no Israeli institution of this sort could fulfill its mission without dedicating special space to the most disastrous moment in Olympic history – the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich games. At the memorial erected to honor these athletes, visitors can watch a moving video testimonial from Esther Roth-Shachamarov, who participated in the games.
The "Ring of Future" is meant to provide a taste of the Olympic experience, though the point of this exhibit seemed to be lost on some of our younger companions.
The fifth room, the "Hands-On Sport Ring" was hands-down the highlight for the kids, both on a recent visit and on a visit several years ago. In this experiential room, you can test – at various stations – whether you're made of the stuff of Olympic athletes.
At the first station, you can squeeze a special device that measures in pounds or kilograms you're so-called "burst-out strength." If it's greater than 50 percent of your body weight, you're pretty strong.
At the electronic jump-off station, you can time yourself to see how quickly you react to the sound of a starting signal (the human record is 0.1 seconds, and some of the kids in our group were not that far off).
The biofeedback station, where electrodes are attached to your fingers and you can test your ability to maintain concentration amid loud noises and cheering, was clearly the kids' favorite, as we observed their progress (and regression) on an animated screen above.
At the endurance station, you can get on a treadmill and find out how long you can maintain the average pace of 20 kilometers per hour typically achieved by Olympic marathon runners (this one drew gales of laughter from the spectators in our group).
If you're planning a trip to the museum, be aware that you need to sign up for a guided tour. These are provided every hour on the hour from 10 a.m. through 5 p.m. on weekdays (including Fridays in the summer). English-language tours are also available but have to be requested in advance, and on these tours, all the audio-visual material is dubbed into English. If you're interested in participating in the experiential segment of the visit, make sure you come wearing closed shoes.
The entire tour takes an hour, and on both our visits – smack in the middle of the summer – the place was surprisingly free of crowds (further indication that the word has yet to get out). Visitors are asked to arrive about 15 minutes before the tour, and we found that during this waiting period, the kids easily entertained themselves playing Olympic trivia games (both in Hebrew and English) on touch-screen computers located in the waiting area.
Depending on traffic, the drive to Hadar Yosef from central Tel Aviv can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. There's also convenient public transportation to the museum. There aren't many restaurants in the vicinity, but on the ground floor of the Olympic Building, there's a nice cafe where you can grab a snack or light meal.
Address: 6 Shitrit St., Hadar Yosef, Tel Aviv
Hours: Sundays-Thursday, 10:00-17:00
Cost: NIS 45 (for adults and children)
Parking: Free of charge on premises