Park Ra’anana, the biggest park in the biblical Plain of Sharon just north of Tel Aviv, was the place for Itai and the other kids to visit from the nearby elementary school – the opportunity to enjoy a petting zoo, monkey bars, rides, and, of course, get out of class without having to play hooky.
Itai, now a grown man, is taking me on a tour of his childhood, and for our last stop, has brought me to this park.
It Starts at the Entrance
“There’s gates up now,” he says as we walk in. “But this used to be the place to come on field trips.”
I’m not sure when the gates were put in, but research tells me that they were permanently opened when entrance fees were scrapped for non-residents in 2007, and the park once more became public domain.
As a non-resident, I’m glad. The park is beautiful, spacious, and very well kept.
We walk past the playground, now expanded with more things to spin and climb, and make our way down the path almost regally lined with palm trees. On the grassy lawns under the shaded areas, families picnic, children play, and old men chat.
Most people we see walk around but there’s paths good for cycling or rollerblading, and there’s a sports field or two (and a baseball diamond? I can’t recall.) for more deliberate and focused running around.
In the distance, the biggest surprise of all in this never-ending park: an amphitheater, relatively small but still grand enough for some bigger names (Madonna, no. Evanescence, yes).
The path lands at a viewing area over the clover-shaped man-made lake. There are children feeding ducks, more men chatting by a cafe, and a boat ready to be taken across and past the fountains sprouting out of the water. We opt for the bridge.
Animals: In the Zoo and Out
But our route over the blue metal overpass is blocked by giant pelican, resting in the middle of the walkway, either oblivious to our presence or refusing to look in our direction. He doesn’t take up a lot of space, but he looks like he could. We go around.
On our way out we stop by the zoo, closed during the afternoon heat. But the caged monkey area at the entrance provides ample viewing of the creatures, and so we wait for a good photo op. There aren’t any: the things are furry and fast. We decide to leave.
The Park Now
The gates are open but the maintenance of Park Ra’anana wasn’t guaranteed without the funding1, and the park has had to find other ways to make up the money it was receiving from the entry fees.
It seems to be managing alright – I can’t speak to how it was before, but today the park looks perfectly preserved (albeit a bit dry), and is still the main draw in Ra’anana. And more importantly, the childhood memories that were made here are accessible and free.