Shalom friends and family,
Chodesh shvat sameach!
I write to you from my bus ride going south towards Eilat. For Shabbat, we will be staying at “Moshav Hatzeva”, a community in the Arava desert, north of Eilat.
A group of boys in tank tops, beach shorts, and aviator sunglasses are also on the bus. They are ready to have a weekend away sipping beers until dawn on the shores of Eilat while Yoella and I are going for a different experience altogether.
From the window, I see the landscapes change from furry green hills, to golden sand dunes.
It’s the first of the month of Shvat today, and Tu B’shvat, the holiday for the trees, is coming soon. On that day we will be celebrating the first budding of the trees. All of Israel is awaiting Tu B’shvat by stocking up on every single dried fruit you can imagine. The land is also getting excited for its birthday; the baby blades of grass are starting to poke out as an act of praise to the heavy rains and snowfall of the winter.
As we get closer and closer to the start of the trail, I ask myself; “So, Nava, are you ready?” Well, over the past week I have been preparing physically, mentally, and spiritually.
I gathered together all of my hiking gear. Yoella and I debated if we should allow ourselves to take 4 pairs of underwear or if three is enough. I purchased a super duper warm sleeping bag which will be my “home away from home” for the next few months. The hardest part of packing was having to leave my blanky behind, a blanket that I sleep with every night that my grandfather gave me when I was born. So I cut off a small piece of it, just to have with me in my backpack.
One of the most important objectives on my To-do-list, was to get health care. After working long days climbing date palms with a machete in hand, I realized it was time to get some insurance in case of emergency.
This was not easy. I ran around from office to office, visiting a total of four government offices in one morning. I went back and forth but nobody was able to help me because of one simple problem. They asked me where I live.
“I don’t,״ I tried to explain. “I’ll be walking through Israel for the next few months and won’t have a permanent address.”
“Sorry, we can’t help you,” they responded, “You do not belong to this branch. Go and change your address and then come back.” Then, they would hand back my documents.
An address is something I don’t have right now. I have a tent.
So I mailed a request to sign up for a health care system. I hope they’ll take me, G-d willing! And if not, I packed a couple of extra Band-Aids and polysporin.
I went on my last run before the trip yesterday, to make sure that I’m still up for the challenge. I ran on one of my favorite paths in Israel. It’s called “Derech Ha’avot (The Patriarchs Way)” because that’s literally what it is. It is the ancient road that was used by our forefathers that runs from Megiddo and Hazor south to Beersheba by way of Shechem, Bethel, Jerusalem, Efrat and Hebron.
I ran on the part that flows over the peaks of the Judean hills north towards Jerusalem. As I ran, I looked over at the hills and valleys which have known the faces of Abraham and Isaac as they walked together, with knife and wood in hand, up towards Mount Moriah where Isaac was to be sacrificed. This path also knows the feet of Jews who lived more than 2000 years before us. They walked this path on the way to Jerusalem, the city of gold, to rejoice in the pilgrimage holidays of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. Along
Along this path are ancient “mile stones,” placed by Romans. Every mile, a stone was placed. This was the ancient way of putting up a sign that said” 12 miles to Jerusalem”. At this point, all the young Roman kids who had been whining “Are we there yet?” could say with relief “Only one more day of walking left!”
I passed by an ancient grape and olive press where Jews used to make wine and olive oil der to bring for the holiday celebration in the Temple. On the way, there is also an ancient mikvah (purifying bath), where Jews would dip in order to spiritually prepare themselves for holy days.
I am thinking about the journey of Jewish families as they walked for days and days with everything on their backs three times a year, in order to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem! Think of your last family vacation, maybe in Florida, maybe in the Bahamas. Now imagine your family taking a trip from Beer Sheva to Jerusalem by foot. And add some sheep in there, too. I’m not sure which trip would give you a better tan!
We are part of a nation that walks. A nation that hikes. A nation that prepares itself for the holiest days of the year by taking a week’s trek across the desert and up the Judean Hills to get to the Holy of Holies.
And now, I feel a part of this heritage more than ever. It’s my turn to walk from the desert, dreaming of the green hills of Jerusalem.
As I was running, to my surprise I found myself lost in a field, nowhere near the path. An Arab worker with a plow in hand came up to me and asked “Are you looking for the spring?” A smile grew on my face. “Sure!” I replied. “Where!?”
He then pointed towards the spring, and I bolted down ready to jump in. There is nothing better than discovering a new spring in Israel. If I had taken a picture for you guys, you would have said “That’s a cute little puddle.” But for Israel, a spring is gold. I jumped into the freezing cold spring, purifying myself for my journey to Jerusalem. And that might be the last shower I see for a while.
Shabbat shalom, Rosh Chodesh samaach!
Sunday. Eilat. Our journey begins. Be there.