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With Phase I of Timna Park completed, Chudnow vision reaches next generation

By Zak Mazur
of The Chronicle staff

September 13th, 2002

Around 1987, Avrum Chudnow was visiting Israel on a Jewish National Fund mission when he had a vision — that Timna Valley Park in the Negev Desert could become “a permanent historical tourist attraction that will live forever.”

Timna Valley is in the southern Arava Valley just north of Eilat, Israel’s southern-most city. The 17,500-acre area is noted for its rugged, desolate beauty, ancient copper mines and rich archeological history of some 8,000 years.

It also has a geological formation known as King Solomon’s Pillars. Chudnow took a look at them and thought, “God gave us these pillars,” he said.

“I always felt that Timna Valley National Park was like another Masada,” Chudnow, 88, explained in a recent interview. “We can buy a tree to help plant a forest. We can build a reservoir, but we cannot create a Masada.”

So the current chairman of the Wisconsin board of JNF and honorary vice president of the organization, as well as the past president of the JNF National Leadership Council resolved that “something had to be done.”

Drawing on his experience as a builder (he operated Chudnow Construction with his late brother Joseph), Chudnow examined JNF’s draft plans for the park and realized the project was doable.

Ever since, he has been determined that Timna Valley become for Israel what Yellowstone National Park is for the United States. This past April, the first phase of the development of the park was completed.

It includes a four-acre, six-foot-deep lake for boating and swimming, the cost of which Chudnow underwrote and that uses water from the flooded, defunct copper mines, and a visitor’s center. Other park features include camping facilities, walking trails and history-related children’s activities.

Family project

The Timna Valley Park project started with $50,000 that Chudnow helped secure for JNF; phases II and III of the 17,500-acre park development will bring the total cost to some $10 million. To date, about $6 million has been raised, a grant of $750,000 has been secured and Chudnow is positive the remaining $3 million will be raised.

“My hope is that my son David gets the additional encouragement and motivation so that he can finish this,” said Chudnow.

David Chudnow, who co-chairs Timna Valley Park with his father, attended the dedication of the first phase, as his father is now unable to travel far.

“I’ve been working on the project for the last eight years,” said the younger Chudnow during a telephone interview from his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. “I was there for the dedication of the chronosphere, which is sort of like a time machine, a mini-Imax-type theater.”

The chronosphere, unique to the Middle East, is designed to provide visitors with an entertaining multi-media history of the Timna mines.

“Unless you are outdoorsy, it is difficult to understand what they did with the mines. So, you can sit in this theater and it tells you about the park and its history and the historic and geological importance,” said David.

The park has been a success, even in these troubled times for Israel’s tourism industry.

“Tourism in Israel has taken a major hit,” said David. “But the south of Israel acts as kind of a refuge, or safe-haven, and a lot of Israelis are going to it. Even though all of this awful stuff is going on, Timna had about 150,000 tourists last year and raised about $1 million.”

The funds, said David, go to the local kibbutzim, which help administer the park.
Future plans for the park include creation of a museum dedicated to the history of the area, a replica of the mines showing the development of mining technology and a “section of a temple devoted to the Egyptian goddess Hathor,” said the older Chudnow.

For more information about the park and its development, contact Milwaukee’s JNF office, 414-963-8733; or visit www.goisrael.com, Israel’s official North American tourism web site.