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Reiten in Israel

Riding in the Golan Heights
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Israel: Shalom Y'all

Edward Stone did not set out to become Yehuda Avni. It wasn't until a friend introduced him to the kibbutz way of life that he even had much of a feeling for his Jewish background. Today Avni is not only a Zionist, he operates the most successful dude ranch in Israel. Avni tours the Golan Heights on horseback each morning, a 25-mile ride from home, to look over the Sea of Galilee. He enjoys the harsh but beautiful landscape that is Israel and speaks fair but not fluent Hebrew. Born and raised on the west side of Chicago, Avni felt shame and embarrassment whenever his Russian-born father or Polish-born mother spoke in public. Because of his parents' immigrant history, however, he grew up with a pioneer spirit.

The Vered haGalil, the Rose of Galilee dude ranch, reflects the reality of Israel today. Over the years, Avni and his Palestinian-born wife have been assisted at the ranch by a slew of workers, from Yemenites to Moroccans to a once-banished German prince. Avni sells horseback-riding tours of Israel along the long border it shares with Jordan, Israel's former enemy. During the six-day war, a period he admits was nothing short of frightful, Avni, his family, and ranch staffers were armed, and they remained so throughout the threatening year of 1967.

As much as he loved life on the kibbutz, the American expatriate loved the hills of Galilee best. After he spent six months looking for the right spot for his dude ranch, the government allowed him to build under the condition that he could not reside in the same place, a conundrum for a rancher. But there was a loophole--the owner could live on the grounds if "the enterprise is important to the state." In the early 1960s, tourism was important to Israel.

Today the Vered Hagalil Guest Farm vered@veredhagalil.co.il operates and sells tours for as short as an hour or as long as a week. The farm has 19 units in this spectacular location. Seven are two-room cottages with a living room and kitchenette; six are one-room cabins; four are studio cabins with kitchenettes and a porch; and two are bunkhouse rooms that sleep four. An outdoor swimming pool is another plus. Recently, accommodations have been enhanced with air conditioning and direct-dial phones. Also new are an enlarged riding ring for Western-style classes and a greater stress on service. Avni is planning on adding three cottages and three studio cabins over the next two years.

Riding packages usually cover eight days and include all meals, lodging, lessons and equipment for $150 a day. Single-night stays include breakfast; extra charges are incurred for riding times ($17 an hour; $45 for a half-day; $78 for an all-day ride with lunch). The "Bonanza," a one-day overnight, costs $98, including riding lessons. Cottage per-night costs range from $110 to $125 based on double occupancy; studios cost from $100 to $116; cabins cost $84 to $100; and the bunkhouse costs $47 to $53.

Article: vacationstation.com/israel/horseback.html


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