“Walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it” – Gen. 13:17
or keep on reading…
Every now and then, I feel a strong pull to go out into nature – to a place not far from home, a place that changes with every season. I think about interesting people I will meet along the way, about stopping under a random tree where I can pull out my stove, boil water to make Turkish coffee, and talk about life and its beauty with my fellow explorers. Spanning more than 1000km across Israel, the perfect place for all of this is the Israel National Trail (שביל ישראל).
The trail has been dubbed one of the world’s most epic trails by National Geographic. But, for one who has hiked the Himalayas, climbed the Alps, made his way through Scandinavian forests and fjords, what could possibly be so unique about the Israel Trail?
I want to tell you a story that will highlight what I mean when I say that the Israel Trail is “so much more than a hike”…
In May, I was hiking part of the trail in the south of Israel, crossing “Makhtesh Ramon”, the Ramon Crater, which usually takes 3 days to hike across. It was hot and dry, so I made sure to carry a lot of water and food. I also knew I could rely on the “Trail Angels” – people with great hearts who live close to the trail and assist hikers with whatever they may need – be it to fill water bottles, charge cell phones, provide a hot shower, or any other aid needed. The day was very long, and I ran out of water. The bottles hidden along the trail by the angels were already empty when I saw them. What should I do? There was no mobile reception, and no other random hikers that day because it also happened to be Yom HaZikaron – Israel’s Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers. It’s a day to be with family and loved ones, and very few people travel on that day. I started to worry.
Having only my instincts to follow, I hid from the burning sun, under a rock, for 4 hours. Knowing that I had to make it to the main road (10km from where I was located) without dehydrating, I started walking. After a couple of hours, I saw a camel standing near a bush with two of its legs tied together so it wouldn’t escape. I realized that this meant that there was someone nearby! I crawled into that bush and there he was – an old man, likely a member of a local Bedouin tribe. This man looked at me, and, without exchanging any words, he understood my situation. He shared his tea with me to help me regain some of my strength. He then took my bottle and proceeded to fill it from the camel’s sack.
Later that evening- while celebrating Yom Ha’Atzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day, at the “kibbutz” next to the main road – I couldn’t help but think about the miracles and legends we hear about the prophet, Elijah. Locals say he appears in various and unknown ways to provide help when needed. Maybe that man was Elijah, maybe he wasn’t. But he was my Elijah that day. This true “angel” exemplifies why this trail is more than a hike – it’s also about the people and the culture that make up this trail.
Yet this trail is not just about the nature, views and even the angels we encounter along the way – it’s about the chance to connect to one’s self and one’s roots. When I walk along the trail and there is a monument, or a mark of some sort that is connected to Israeli history – be it from biblical or modern times – we feel connected. While my son and I were planning his bar mitzvah, we decided that we would hike the Israel Trail, symbolizing his journey into adulthood. Hiking the Israel trail with him and some of his best friends was a unique way for him to learn about his roots, to explore the land he lives in and to better understand the Israeli chain of generations rooted to these springs, olive and oak trees and limestone rock found along the trails. It was also an incredibly special way for us to strengthen our bond.
So, if you want to connect – to Israel and its culture, and to yourself and your heritage, come hike the “Israel trail”. I guarantee you will come out with a better understanding of at least 3 very precious things – yourself, your neighbor, and the land of Israel.
Segev Ben Shalom
Via Sabra Tour Guide
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