Does your family have a project? Maybe you do puzzles together, or maybe you work to improve a Wisconsin lake house?
For the Chudnow family, the project is Timna Park, a desert park in Israel offering camping, hiking and archeological finds. No, no, their family project is not just visiting the park. They’re devoted to developing it and making it better.
Back in the 1980s, Avrum Chudnow was key to creating an artificial lake that has been crucial for Timna Park. Now, his son David Chudnow and others in the family carry on the Timna Park legacy, donating, fundraising and strategizing for the park.
“My father was a visionary,” said David, who moved from Milwaukee to Los Angeles in 1972. “He was taken to this area and was smitten with it. He saw this place was a miracle waiting to happen. There’s all sorts of stories about my father and how he got hooked on Timna.”
It’s an intergenerational accomplishment for the Chudnows. “Millions of people now have been in the park,” David said.
The 14,000-acre Israeli state park is practically a member of the Chudnow family. Members of the Chudnow family gathered to dedicate a new Timna Park visitor center in 2016. Now, David thinks of ways to improve the center – how can he tech it up for an even better experience? Family projects have included a lookout at the “Mushroom Rock,” and a fleet of swan boats, a restaurant and gift shop at the lake. Chudnows go on family trips and missions to Timna Park, too.
The Park is in the Negev Desert, close to Israel’s southern tip, where Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt all come together at Eilat and the Gulf of Aqaba. It’s remote, yet at the center of everything.
It certainly has the attention of historians and archologists.
“For 3,000 years, there have been numerous efforts made to locate King Solomon’s mines, and in the last year alone, there have been two cable television documentaries investigating recent discoveries confirming that the legendary mines are in Timna Park, located deep in the deserts of Southern Israel,” the Jerusalem Post reported in January 2020.
Experts have been able to find evidence of prior civilization at those copper mines, inside Timna, thanks to the dry climate, which preserves textiles and artifacts.
For example, Israeli experts have found scraps of purple colored textile, about 3,000 years old. It’s a shade of purple that’s believed to be “argaman.” The rare purple dye was for royalty and was found in an area where the Bible tells us King David conquered the Edomite kingdom. A January 2021 Times of Israel article said the purple would have come from snails on the Mediterranean Sea, must have been transported to Timna Park. Could the Israelites have arranged for its transport? Could this be a puzzle piece to help substantiate or fill in the tales of the Hebrew Bible? Scholars are studying the findings inside Timna, seeking to answer such questions.
“Numerous Milwaukeeans contributed generously to the Park,” said David Chudnow. “My family, JNF and the Park greatly appreciate the generosity of the Milwaukee community. You have had a substantial impact on the Park, the people there and its success.”
The work at the park, also, is the product of a continuing partnership with Jewish National Fund, a JNF development entity called KKL, and others. A 300-room hotel is under development for the park, and Israel’s third largest airport is across the street.
“This is a wonderful achievement and benefit for Israelis and for Jews coming to Israel,” Don Chudnow said. “Projects like this making Israel stronger.”
Don, of Milwaukee, said his cousin David has been the lead on the Timna Park projects, after Avrum was the visionary.
“I was raised with this and was raised as a strong supporter of Israel,” said Don, whose father, Joe, was also deeply involved with Timna Park. That generation is no longer with us, but their work continues, Don said.
“Your readers might be interested to know that my father knew that a group of Jewish men met in the morning at Benji’s Deli on the east side of Milwaukee; this was many years ago,” David Chudnow said. “He intended to create a Benji’s East in the cafeteria in the Park in honor of Benji and the men. Unfortunately, this was never achieved, and it was dropped when the area was renovated for the restaurant.”
Now, David Chudnow said he is thinking about the development of the site where the purple materials were found. “This may be very challenging since the finds were on a fairly steep, almost impregnable hill (designated the Slaves Hill) and it may be extremely difficult from an engineering construction aspect and quite costly,” he said.
But it could happen. The Chudnows are not done with Timna Park.
‘I’ve been working on Timna for about 45 years,” David Chudnow said, adding that the visitor center now has interactive and virtual reality elements. “We’re trying to make it as hip and happening as we can.”