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Wild Israel

If every step taken in the Holy Land constitutes a mitzvah, then hiking the Israel Trail is as good as it gets

I lived in Israel for years, but I didn’t know the country. I hustled through my life attending to my life’s routines of raising our two boys and trying to maintain my career. I was driving by unseen wonders at 90 kilometers an hour. And I might have continued in the same way to my grave. But luckily disaster struck –- a few weeks after I quit my work supervising teachers at Berliz, my husband was down-sized from his job. Suddenly we were two middle aged, unemployed people.

After the shock wore off we started to look at the situation as an opportunity instead of a calamity. Dreams that we’d been putting off “until later” were now possible. For a while we discussed sailing around the world, or decamping to an island in the South Pacific, but all this was either financially irresponsible or felt like running away. Eventually we talked about that long camping trip for which we’d never had time. We discussed hiking the Appalachian Trail, or the Smoky Mountains trails, even though the logistics of living in Israel and trying to hike a wilderness trail in the USA were complicated.

It never occurred to me to try camping in Israel itself. I had the mistaken idea it was too dangerous, or too built up, or too littered, or too something. Today it is hard to remember all of my misconceptions.  While I was researching the wilderness trails in the USA I stumbled onto a website describing the Israel National Trail, a 1,000-kilometer trial which goes from the Golan Heights to Eilat, and from that moment a different path opened up in front of us.

Khirbet Shema synagogue 3rd to 4th century ( חרבת שמע )

We have now hiked and camped from Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights to the foot of Hod Akev in the Negev, about 2/3 of the Israel Trail. When you walk as opposed to driving or riding a bike, you can see what it truly there. So now we know our land a little better. We have slept in the ancient ruins of a synagogue by the light of a full moon. Many times we’ve descended into lonely valleys and felt we were the only people in the world. We’ve walked on wild, deserted beaches, scared we might be stranded between the high tide and the cliffs, we’ve sat huddled around a camp fire to stay warm at night while the jackals howled close by and our dog Taffy howled with them. We’ve walked through forests where once there was only bare rock, and we have discovered lonely springs of cold water in the scorching desert.

My aim with this blog is to share some of what I’ve learned about the land of Israel since I started hiking the Israel Trail. Some of the articles will simply be my musings, while others will be more scholarly, delving into primary literature about a particular organism, ecosystem, archeological site, or geological and paleontological formation.

Hiking the Israel National Trail on the coast north of Netanyia

Once when we were coming back home from one of our hikes a man asked us about what we were doing. After we told him our story he smiled and said to us that it was written that every step a person takes in the land of Israel is a mitzvah! I’m feeling pretty good about the number of mitzvot I’ve done these last few years.

Happy hiking!

 

About the Author
Diana Barshaw was a research scientist and afterwards a professor in the field of behavior and ecology from 1988 to 2004. Starting in 2005 she spent two years writing a novel while working for Berlitz and the Berlitz Virtual Classroom as an English teacher and as the supervisor and trainer of English teachers. She also wrote a monthly column for the Jerusalem Post called ‘Wild Israel’. Currently Diana has her own website (www.DianaBarshaw.com) where she describes her continuing adventures hiking on the Israel National Trail, writes articles about Israeli wildlife, and where she is compiling a guide to hiking the trails of the Carmel Mountains. She also uses Skype to teach English to people around the world.
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