Who knew the descendant of those talented men who built the Western Wall Plaza, the Knesset and the Sharei Tzedek Hospital, would be the one to build a Disneyland-type of park in the Holy Land?! Lior has it in his blood, being part of 9 generations of men who were skilled in building and creating in the ever-growing State of Israel.
Set in the heart of dense forest amidst the sprawling Jerusalem hills sits Eretz Havat Ha’ayalim (Deer Land Farm). This is no ordinary farm; it’s a taste of the Costa Rican jungle in the heart of the Judean hills.
A petting zoo, climbing wall, paintball facilities, archery, horseback riding, jeep tours, bungee trampoline, rope courses and the longest zip line in Israel are just some of the treats on offer. This exhilarating outdoor activity center attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Founder Lior Levy dreams that, one day, ‘Deer Land Farm’ will become the Disneyland of Israel.
The idea first came to him 20 years ago whilst traveling. Lior and a friend rented a car from New York City and set out on a road trip which turned into the adventure of a lifetime.
The original plan was to drive just as far as Florida. However the pair were struck with a serious case of the travel bug and decided to go onto Texas. Then onto Mexico. Then onto South America. A year and a half on and thousands of miles later, the pair were still driving.
Lior happily remembers his travels, “My travels are a story in and of themselves! From Mardi Gras in New Orleans, hiking canyons in Texas, seeing the sights of Vegas. We really saw everything.”
Along the way, Lior immersed himself in the cultures he encountered, picking up bits of the local languages he heard and falling in love with the opportunities the great outdoors offered.
“The idea really started in Costa Rica. Here I enjoyed many outdoor activities and experiences such as rock climbing and zip-lining. I dreamt of building a career out of these adventures…bringing joy and excitement to people of all ages and backgrounds.”
Their trip came to an abrupt end when they reached the border at Nicaragua.
“Oh, you’re Israeli. You can’t come through here,” stated the border police nonchalantly.
The adventure was over, but the seeds of an idea had been firmly planted in Lior’s mind.
Initially Lior wanted to build an outdoor activity center in Costa Rica. However, it proved impossible to secure the relevant support and navigate a foreign administrative system. His idea changed:
“I realized that this type of attraction simply did not exist in Israel. I was born in Jerusalem, my family all lived in the area and I had relatives in the Judean mountains. Jerusalem is always in my heart. Surely, the scenic hilltops surrounding Jerusalem would be the perfect place for a center of this kind! Why not relocate this dream to my homeland?!”
“If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning.” (Psalms 137:5)
It transpired that the Judean hills really were the perfect choice for his thrillseekers’ paradise. The beautiful scenery, good weather and hilly topography made it the ideal choice of location. It is an area of immense natural beauty, which boasts spectacular views and attracts interesting wildlife.
“They found rich and good pasture, and the land was wide open, quiet and peaceful.” (I Chronicles 4:40)
It was hard work to set up. Lior jokes, “Israel is not known for its bureaucratic simplicity.’’ However, after years of hard work, funding was secured and approval given to build Havat Eretz Ha’ayalim. Lior reflects, “The challenge of setting it up has made the rewards of seeing it open and grow even sweeter.”
Lior recalls that when the park first opened in 2001, Judea and Samaria were not known as locations for tourist attractions. There were limited activities on offer and recreational visitors to the area were few and far between. Now, the area is flourishing and very much on the tourist map.
“It used to be that the North of Israel was known for its hikes and outdoor activities. Since opening this mini Disneyland, this region has become a tourist attraction in its own right. We have wineries, well-known hiking trails and – of course – Deer Land Farm! These hilltops have become a real destination. The infrastructure continues to develop each year. It’s a wonderful thing to see.”
One of the park’s main attractions are the huge Omegas (zip-lines) which are amongst the most impressive in the world and bring in visitors from far and wide!
Riders glide above the trees, take in the incredible surroundings whilst enjoying a serious adrenaline high. One zip-line extends for 400 meters and sits 120 meters above a canyon. A second sits just as high but continues for a mind-blowing 600 meters! They offer a totally unique opportunity to soar above paradise and see the astounding beauty of the Holy Land from new heights.
People of all ages love the facilities. From the very young, to the old, there’s something there for everyone. Lior is already well on his way to building the Disneyland of Israel and looks forward to seeing what the next 20 years has in store!
A lovely feature of the park is that it has become a melting pot of different cultures and religions. Lior explains,
“We have visitors from all corners of the earth. England, Australia, Canada, Russia – you name it! Arabs and Jews, religious and irreligious, everyone gets along, side-by-side, enjoying the thrilling activities we have to offer. Here, differences are put aside as visitors equally enjoy the thrills and beautiful surroundings.”
“The Lord builds up Jerusalem. He gathers the outcasts of Israel.” (Psalms 147:2)
Prophecies are coming alive as more and more people are enjoying traveling the Land of the Bible, as it is written,
“And they will come and sing joyously on the height of Zion.” (Jeremiah 31:11).
Not only are the Jewish people returning to the Holy Land and making it blossom, but they are continuously building impressive and exciting attractions, as well. You can now experience the land of our forefathers in a whole new way and from various heights. Come visit the heart of Israel and join the fun!
(Jenny Mays participated in writing this article.)