A vision for an oasis in the desert: Timna Park


Three decades ago, a man from Milwaukee looked out at a lonely stretch of the Negev desert in southern Israel and decided to create something seemingly impossible: a tourism draw.

Avrum Chudnow, a developer and active member of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), knew the beautiful yet isolated region — once a center for copper mining — could benefit from an economic boost. He was also fascinated with the idea of using advances in technology to bring water into the desert. Working with Moshe Rivlin, then the chairman of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-JNF in Israel, he devised a plan to do just that.

“He said, ‘How can we draw people to this remote, kind of desolate area? It’s beautiful, but it’s not exactly Jerusalem or Tel Aviv,’ ” said David Chudnow, the late Avrum Chudnow’s son and an attorney in West Los Angeles. “So the first thing they decided to do was put in a lake, in the middle of the desert.”

More than 30 years later, that isolated patch of desert is now the 15,000-acre Timna Park (parktimna.co.il). At its heart is a 4-acre artificial lake, the outcome of Avrum Chudnow’s vision, achieved by pumping leftover water from abandoned modern mines. Visitors to the park can also experience historic copper mines that date back to the time of King Solomon, see ancient Egyptian rock drawings, marvel at spectacular rock formations and striated rock, go hiking and camping, ride mountain bikes, engage in rock climbing, rent boats, and see wild animals such as antelope and ibex. 

“It’s one of those rare, special jewels of the world, and when you go, the history comes alive, the beauty comes alive, and the best of what Mother Nature can create comes alive,” said Russell Robinson, chief executive officer of JNF, which continues to sponsor development of the park along with the Chudnow family and others. 

When people visit Israel, “there’s always those must-go places to see,” Robinson said. “Timna national park is one of those you’ve got to put on that list with everything else.”

Today the park, located about 17 miles north of Eliat, attracts about 125,000 visitors a year. That number is expected to grow as Israel constructs a new international airport next to the park, Robinson said. Visitors can come for the day, camp next to the lake or stay at nearby kibbutzim, David Chudnow said.

Continuing Avrum Chudnow’s legacy, David and other family members have poured millions of dollars into the park’s development. In March, the park dedicated the new Chudnow Visitor Center, which provides visitors with interactive exhibits about the park and the historic copper mines; it also serves as an event hall. Numerous events are held in the park throughout the year, including concerts, weddings, bar mitzvahs, chariot races and even a hot-air balloon festival.

Robinson said the Chudnow family’s monetary contributions to the park have been extremely important to its development, but the biggest impact — Avrum Chudnow’s vision — is what made the park possible.

“He dreamed big,” said Robinson. “Where other people would have seen just a vast unknown, he dreamed a big dream and said this is something that was created by something greater than us. We’ve got to bring the public to see it and enjoy it and to experience it.” 

David Chudnow, who attends Temple Beth Am and is a 30-year board member of the Jewish National Fund in the Los Angeles Region, said watching the park evolve since those early days when his father first took an interest in it has been like watching a child grow.

“I think my father would be happy with it,” he concluded.

Interested in visiting Timna Park? Check out these highlights: 

The lake: Here you’ll find shaded seating areas, a playground, restaurant and souvenir shop. Rent pedal boats or make bottles filled with colored sand. You can also visit a reconstructed Tabernacle. A lakeside campground offers large tents with mats and mattresses, or you can pitch your own tent. There are also hot showers, toilets, lighting and water. (Overnight camping requires reservations.) 

Mines: Ancient copper mines, mining shafts and smelting furnaces are located throughout the park. The mines have been linked to Egyptians living in the 13th century B.C.E., but recent radio carbon dating by researchers from Tel Aviv University suggests the mines operated during the time of King Solomon in the 10th century B.C.E.

Rock formations and carvings: Scenic wonders inside Timna Park include Solomon’s Pillars (giant sandstone columns that jut out from a rock face) and the Mushroom (a large boulder on top of a sandstone column). You can also see what are thought to be ancient Egyptian rock carvings of figures in chariots.

Hiking and adventure sports: Numerous hiking trails in the park cater to all experience levels. Mountain biking is another popular option for seeing Timna, and there are six cycling routes in the park. Other adventure activities include rappelling and a small zipline. 

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