Israel at your feet, literally

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

One of the biggest tourist attractions in Israel right now is also one of the tiniest. At Mini Israel, visitors can peer at a dollhouse-sized replica of the Dome of the Rock, marvel at tiny worshippers davening in front of the Western Wall and hike through the Ramon Crater in 30 seconds.

Launched officially in April 2003, Mini Israel is the newest of more than 45 tiny lands around the world. The most well-known of these parks is Madurodam in the Netherlands (think miniature windmills). Located halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in the Ayalon valley, Mini Israel is 13 acres large and features some 300 sights from all over Israel. The privately owned enterprise cost $20 million to launch, and more than 100 man-years went into building the tiny models.

Like its precursors, Mini Israel replicates famous buildings, cityscapes and landmarks on a 1:25 scale. To give you an idea of that scale, if you are 5 feet 5, you would be about 2 1/2 inches in Mini Israel.

Among the 30,000 inhabitants of Mini Israel are Lilliputian soccer players, who move along mechanized tracks and actually play a game in Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium. And after either side scores a goal, little spectators on the bleachers do “the wave.” The park also has thousands of tiny living trees and bushes that are regularly pruned — you won’t see any of that fake-looking dyed moss used for model train landscaping. It’s hard to imagine a more spectacular miniature landscape than the park’s rendition of the Baha’i hillside gardens in Haifa, complete with 19 terraces of formal plantings.

Sidestepping the issue of the disputed territories, Mini-Israel is not a literal re-creation of the whole country. Instead, the attractions are arranged in the shape of the Star of David. So there is no West Bank or Gaza Strip, although you will find the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, as well as Mount Hermon on the Golan Heights — with tiny skiers riding the lifts to the top and skiing down the slope.

For this tourist, the Mini Israel experience was quite entertaining, like looking through a lavishly illustrated guidebook. You can indulge in fond reminiscences of the real thing, and for things you haven’t yet seen, you can decide whether it’s worth making the trip there. And for some, as it was for my group, it may be the only chance to get a good look at the Temple Mount. When we visited in mid-September, it was closed for security reasons. Even in replica, it was still compelling.

Lydia Lee was recently on a press tour sponsored by the Israeli ministry of tourism and El Al.