On the morning after the kidnapping, I was touring Gush Etzion with Israel Scaventures. I was only vaguely aware that something had gone down, and was blissfully enjoying a day to get to know a part of the country I don’t visit often, despite its relative proximity to my home.
We began the morning in Kfar Etzion, with a showing of the sound and light show. One of our “scaventurers” is a local of the kibbutz and he told us the show will soon be replaced by a twenty-first century multimedia presentation. I’d have liked to have seen that. We walked through the kibbutz, spotting various historical buildings, and then continued on to the next stop on our interactive tour of Gush Etzion.
We visited the Way of the Patriarchs, which was the ancient road to Jerusalem, where the biblical heroes walked and which served the Jewish people during the Roman period as well. The Second Temple period mikveh was testament to this spot being a rest stop on the way to Jerusalem’s Temple.
We climbed a water tower to see three famous biblical sites, all visible from Gush Etzion: Mearat Hamachpela, Kever Rachel and Emek HaElah (where David and Goliath fought).
Moving on to more modern times, we visited the Lone Tree, which was the symbol of Gush Etzion during the long years in which it was out of Jewish hands between the War of Independence and the Six Day War. We saw the memorials to the original four settlements in the area, which were destroyed and their inhabitants massacred by the Arab Legion. We saw houses which had been ruined all the way down to their foundations.
But we also saw the amazing rebirth of Gush Etzion: the elementary and high schools, local government, children frolicking in a natural pool and houses upon houses of Jewish presence in the beautiful hills of Judea.
The most adventurous part of our scavenger hunt was a walk through Ein Biyar, a Herodian aqueduct which originally connected all the way to Jerusalem through Bethlehem. We walked through freezing dirty water, occasionally bumping our heads, and enjoyed music sung by some of our team members who did not brave the water.
Due to lack of time, we skipped a visit to Pina Chama, which provides refreshments for soldiers stationed nearby. Now I wish we had stopped there too, since it’s busier than ever now, serving all the soldiers who are working tirelessly to bring the boys home.
This incredible trip is just one of the ways to experience Gush Etzion. It’s a great family experience, since it tells the story of the region in a fun and exciting way. Even little kids can be involved by finding matches to pictures and placing stickers on them.
Sadly, these days Gush Etzion is in the news for the wrong reasons, and many potential tourists are wary of visiting. But now is the perfect time to go and show solidarity with the people of the Gush, who are bearing much of the burden of recent events.