I subscribe to the Hiking the Holyland newsletter because I love hiking. There are many pleasant trails, and some challenging ones, not far from my home in the Jerusalem Hills and I discovered many new ones through the colorful blog posts on the Hiking the Holyland website. Created by Susannah Schild in 2018, the site documents hikes all around the country with its mission of sharing Israel’s beauty and history with the world.
Schild has just published her first book – From Southerner to Settler: Unexpected Lessons from the Land of Israel (June 2023). The book is not a hiking guide, but rather the story of Schild’s aliyah and her love for family, Judaism, and Israel. With a strong emphasis on nature, the book also relates the origins of Hiking the Holyland.
The author left her home in New Orleans and moved to Israel with her husband and two small children in 2003. “We were here,” she writes. “We had made it. We were home. In the place where we had vowed we would raise our children and live out our future.”
Looking for a place where they could live as religious Jews, the family first settled in Ramat Beit Shemesh, but it didn’t go well. Confronted with Ultra-Orthodox extremism, they left and found a warmer welcome in Neve Daniel, south of Jerusalem. In the Gush Etzion community, they built their house, from the ground up, and planted a garden, something the author says gave her “a deep love for the land.”
“The move to Israel was entirely worth every sacrifice that was required,” she relates. “We were living the Jewish dream, quite literally. A people united as a family and a nation in the Holy Land.”
Religious Judaism plays an integral, indispensable role in Schild’s life, and this is repeatedly emphasized in the book. This may seem excessive to secular readers, but one can respect the openness and honesty with which she shares her convictions and faith. For the author, “the living Torah is here for all to experience, especially our children. This is what it’s really like to live as a religious Jew in our homeland.”
In these troubled times in Israel, the author focuses on the positive. She wonders if she can succeed in presenting to her family “the beauty of Israel, the inspiration, the camaraderie of the Jewish people, and the feeling of being at home, all bound up together and served on a silver platter.”
For the author, hiking is much more than a way to enjoy the nice weather and nature. It is “an opportunity to really to get to know Israel, the physical land of our forefathers and to understand its hidden messages … a deeper understanding of our Torah, our most precious treasure.”
Schild shares not only her love for hiking, but so much more. One respects her world of faith, optimism, and love for the land, as told in this very readable, personal tale of her journey from the American south to Gush Etzion.
Susannah Schild, born and raised in New Orleans, moved to Israel in 2003 with her husband and two small kids. Many years and a few children later, she discovered the quiet and inner peace that comes from being in nature. She is a The Times of Israel blogger and lives right outside of Jerusalem in Gush Etzion. From Southerner to Settler is her first book.