Last week I went on a tour of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. We visited the town of Ariel and the ancient Temple of Shilo. In Ariel, we were given a briefing about the history of the West Bank and heard from Jewish settlers as to why they believe it is important to settle there. They told us that many Jewish settlers want to settle in Judea and Samaria (what they call the West Bank) because it was the home of the first Israelites.
I was warned at the beginning of the day that this tour would only address the right-winged opinion of what some regard as “the occupied territories”. However, it was very interesting and important to hear their point of view.
After visiting the town of Ariel, we traveled to the site of ancient Shilo. Shilo is thought to have been the first site of the Biblical Tabernacle. It was considered the religious capital of Israel for 300 years before Jerusalem. Shilo is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as an assembly place for the twelve tribes of Israel: The “whole congregation of Israel assembled…and set up the Tabernacle of the congregation…” (Joshua 18:1), built under Moses’ direction from God (Exodus 26) to house the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25).
Shilo was the center of Israelite worship. The people assembled there for prescribed feasts and sacrifices. Having majored in Religious Studies in college, this site was fascinating to me. It was interesting to hear numerous explanations of why people think the Tabernacle was located there. I am always fascinated to hear any information about the mystery of the Ark of the Covenant.
The day ended with a wine tasting at the Psagot Winery – a treat for me since my internship in Israel revolves around food and wine. The Winery is located between Jerusalem and Shilo on what is referred to as “the Biblical Wine Trail” along Route 60. After learning about the ancient Israelites and the Tabernacle at Shilo, it was special to learn about the ancient Israelite roots of wine making.
Israel has a rich history of wine making which goes back over 3,000 years and even the people who predated the Israeli people produced wine. The Psagot Winery preserves ancient techniques of wine making and cultivates its grapes on the same limestone where grapes were grown thousands of years ago.
The wine makers go out of their way to make sure that the winery preserves its ancient roots. The winery only uses modern technology to monitor the humidity and heat during the wine making process, but they pick their grapes by hand instead of using mechanical pickers. It is more expensive but generally considered a superior method for assuring better wine. Hand picking avoids mixing bad grapes with the good. And of course, they did not have internal combustion driven tractors in biblical times.
Psagot has won several international awards for their wines at the Terravino, Vinalies, and Winos wine competitions. The winery itself was cozy and rustic; it smelled of cedar wood and had breathtaking panoramic views of the Jerusalem hills. We tasted Psagot’s Cabernet Sauvignon and a sweet white dessert wine. The Cabernet Sauvignon was rich and had aromas of cherry and blackberry. Psagot’s Cabernet grapes have been praised by such international experts as Michel Rolland, the world’s most famous “flying winemaker”.
After spending a day in the West Bank that connected me to ancient Israel, it was exceptional to drink wine that was made with techniques incorporated by the ancient Israelites. Through a glass of wine I felt a deeper and more meaningful connection to the land of Israel than I had possessed before.