Actually, “moon- and Jupiter-gazing” would be more accurate. The observatory of the ORT technical high school and college in Maale Adumim has a small observatory, which is open to the public once a month. We signed up for the tour on Oct. 18. I assume that the day is determined by the phase of the moon, so it’s probably scheduled a few days before the full moon. The moon is large enough to see easily but not so bright that the details are washed out.
ORT schools in Israel are technical secondary schools and colleges run by ORT Israel, which broke away from World ORT, an international non-profit organization, in 2006. According to the ORT Israel site, the school in Maale Adumim prepares cadets for the Israeli Air Force:
ORT Ma’ale Adumim is a regional school that aims to prepare its 214 student cadets for the Israeli Air Force while maintaining a high academic level. The college offers tracks in Electronics, Scientific Engineering, Computers and Biotechnology. The school plans to extend its range of 10th-12th grades, offering a 13th and 14th grade level as well.
The tour costs 20 NIS and has to be booked in advance. If there is insufficient enrollment, they’ll call you the night before to let you know that it has been cancelled. Details (in Hebrew) are at their site. To register, call 02-590-0243/923, ext. 4, and ask for Viki. It’s rather difficult to reach her, so if you run into problems, call the school admin number and leave a message. There were 18 people the night we went.
The tour began with a fairly basic astronomy lecture and a demo of Stellarium. If you’re not familiar with Stellarium, it’s a free, open-source planetarium software program (Wikipedia). We downloaded it as soon as we got home (download site, screenshot gallery, for Windows, Mac, and Linux). It’s a lot of fun!
After the presentation, we went out to the balcony to look at the moon and Jupiter. I could see the red stripe of Jupiter. Someone in the group managed to get a good photograph of the moon by holding his cellphone close to the eyepiece. I wish I’d thought of that but I’m not sure I could have manually focused a DSLR under those conditions. I still don’t have a medium zoom lens, so these photos were taken with a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens and a 10-22mm wide angle lens.
We didn’t get to use the big observatory telescope for a number of reasons — it takes time to set up and calibrate, it’s intended primarily for researchers, and using it does involve wear-and-tear on a fairly expensive machine. The kids were allowed to operate the controls to open the roof and rotate the telescope. The entire tour is an hour long and it’s fun if you’re looking for something close to home.
Gratuitous B/W arty shot of the stairs: