Chirping Birds on the Way to the Old Dining Hall

A quick trip north to the kibbutzim of Upper Galilee provides ample evidence that despite the accelerated privatization process underway in the kibbutzim, they still have that air of yesteryear, of unhurried strolls along gravel paths under a shady canopy of trees, with birds chirping all along the way.

A quick trip north to the kibbutzim of Upper Galilee provides ample evidence that despite the accelerated privatization process underway in the kibbutzim, they still have that air of yesteryear, of unhurried strolls along gravel paths under a shady canopy of trees, with birds chirping all along the way.

The dining halls have not changed much, either. Alongside the preservation of the rural atmosphere, one also discerns, however, a certain suspension of progress in other areas, particularly when it comes to the guest rooms. Although in recent years fancy wooden chalets with Jacuzzis and other luxuries have sprouted up on the moshavim, the bed-and-breakfast facilities on kibbutz still manage to look like old, deserted children's houses that underwent a slapdash conversion into tourist accommodations.

Hannah Koren, director of the rural tourist department at the Ministry of Tourism, argues, however, that the kibbutzim that converted children's homes into guest rooms occupy a lower quality and price niche than the fancier wooden chalets, and as such they answer the demand for less costly tourism options. Furthermore, says Koren, there are some kibbutzim that have built those wooden chalets, including Kfar Haruv in the Golan.

Koren asserts that there is a difference between the rooms in kibbutzim that entered the tourism field early on, and those that joined in the second wave. The latter offer rooms that are better adapted to contemporary requirements.

The kibbutzim also have advantages: they are usually able to offer groups an expansive central lawn for meetings and relaxation; in addition, most kibbutzim have swimming pools.

Twenty Galilee kibbutzim recently banded together in a joint marketing forum called Galilee Hospitality. Meir Levi, who is the manager of the country hospitality sector at Kibbutz Gonen and who chairs the forum, says the objective is to build up a brand name for country hospitality on kibbutzim, and make the stays there a comprehensive kibbutz experience through the addition of certain activities. The kibbutzim that have joined the forum have also established a common reservations center, located on Kibbutz Ayelet Hashachar, which supplies information on the bed-and-breakfast rooms and the various activities (Tel. 1-800-228262).

Interestingly, Ayelet Hashachar, whose guest house enjoyed a sterling reputation for decades, decided this year to convert it into an immigrant absorption center, due to the tough times in the tourism sector. Nevertheless, the kibbutz has not given up on tourism, and besides the reservations center it operates the Basalt Shooting Range, which offers skeet shooting and shooting with paint-guns for children, including simulated shootouts. The kibbutz also offers jeep tours along the dirt tracks of the Golan foothills for individuals, families and groups, and a "singing excursion" to sites about which songs have been written, such as a majestic palace overlooking the Kinneret and the paths that run between Kibbutz Degania and the Kinneret. These tours are geared for groups without children, and are led by Ofer Gavish, a musician who has researched the roots of Hebrew song (Tel. 04-6952662).

One of the upheavals in the kibbutz hospitality sector is the koshering of kibbutz dining halls and catering facilities in a bid to attract the religious public, which represents quite a target audience for this type of vacationing. Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi, a member of the Galilee Hospitality forum, even employs a kashruth supervisor in its dining hall. The kibbutz has 28 rooms, and four apartments with two separate rooms. The rooms are of a reasonable standard, but like the vast majority of guest rooms in Israel, lack shelves in the bathroom for toiletries. Similarly, the toilet and shower are in the same room. The cost per night of a guest room is NIS 450 for a couple plus child, breakfast included. From September, the price will be NIS 300. Two-room apartments go for NIS 700, and can house up to 6-7 persons. Kfar Hanassi also offers a touring package that includes meals out in the field , and two-to-three day horseback tours in the Upper Jordan Valley (Tel. 04-6914870).

Kibbutz Mahanaim, situated east of Rosh Pina, also operates guest units in stone buildings, which can comfortably fit a family of four. There are also two-room apartments. The cost of a room during high season is NIS 380 per couple, with an extra NIS 75 cost per child. Meals are served in the kibbutz dining hall, together with the members (Tel. 04-6933221). Visitors can watch Mahanaim's own David Yasour at work on his basalt sculptures, and purchase his work. Also on the kibbutz is the stained glass workshop of Avner Siton. Holistic and alternative medicine treatments are available.

Kibbutz Gadot, perched above the Upper Jordan river, has 60 guest rooms, all of which look out on a central lawn where children can amuse themselves while their parents sit and imbibe the view of the Golan on the other side of the river. Over the past year, the kibbutz has invested about NIS 2 million in upgrading some of the rooms, which are pleasant and clean. A night for two goes for NIS 290 (an extra NIS 70 per child), including breakfast and entrance to the pool. The cost of an apartment with two attached rooms is NIS 550, for four guests (Tel. 04-6939188).

Like Gadot, Kibbutz Gonen, situated in the lower foothills of the Golan, looks out on a charming, serene landscape. It has 52 guest rooms and two new units, complete with Jacuzzi and modern furnishings. (Tel. 04-6955260). Guests receive a booklet of coupons with discounts on local attractions. A couple pays NIS 300 (NIS 310 in August), breakfast included. The rooms with Jacuzzis go for NIS 500.

The hospitality units at Kfar Szold, situated in central Galilee, are noteworthy not for any substantial financial investment made there, but for the care with which the linens and towels have been folded. It is nice to walk into the room, even if the perfect order no longer exists five minutes afterward. A room at Kfar Szold ranges from NIS 220 to 360, according to the season. The two-room apartments are NIS 600 in the summer high season. Aside from the green lawns, sitting areas, barbecue grills and play equipment near the rooms, Kfar Szold also boasts a sculpture garden created by one of the members, which features human and animal figures sculpted from local stone alongside tractors and agricultural equipment from days gone by. Other options for family amusement is a horse-drawn buggy ride out to the fields, pools and streams, and horseback riding (Tel. 04-6907176).

The Galilee Hospitality forum also includes kibbutzim with hotels, one of which is Kfar Giladi. The hotel there has 180 rooms, a semi-Olympic-sized pool, and a sports center. Hotel manager Lior Sharon says that when it became obvious the crisis in tourism was a long-term phenomenon, the management adjusted the hotel for domestic tourism, complete with special deals and extras. "The problem is that Israelis who have stayed in hotels at the Dead Sea want to receive the same five-star service at a three-star hotel," says Sharon.

The cost of a night's stay at Kfar Giladi is NIS 820 for a couple with two children for a weekend stay, and NIS 720 during the week. In August, the weekend stay goes up to NIS 920. Guests staying three mid-week nights or two weekend nights will receive free entrance to either the cable-car at the Manara Cliff or the kayaks at Kibbutz Hagoshrim (Tel. 04-6900042).