Categories
Festivals & holidays

5 Ways to Celebrate Sukkot in Israel

Sukkot is a weeklong Jewish holiday that celebrates the gathering of the harvest. But most importantly, it reminds us of the Exodus from Egypt. During the Exodus, GOD took care of the Israelites and provided them shelter while walking in the desert. In the Bible, it clearly says: “You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 23:42) According to some commentators, those booths were temporary dwellings with a roof made of unprocessed natural vegetation. That is why we dwell in those booths every sukkot.

If you’re planning to visit Israel on Sukkot, I’ve gathered 5 ways to celebrate Sukkot in Israel. Just keep in mind that public transportation does not operate during the first two days of the holiday.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get commission if you decide to make a purchase through the links, at no extra cost to you. These links help me keep the website alive, so thank you!

Table of Contents:

When is Sukkot celebrated?

This year (2021), Sukkot will begin at sundown on 20 September and end at nightfall on 27 September. Every year, the date is slightly different. That’s because we celebrate our holidays according to the Hebrew calendar, which is different from the widely used Gregorian calendar. Sukkot begins every year on the 15th day of the seventh Hebrew month, Tishrei. Usually, this day falls in October.

5 ways to celebrate Sukkot in Israel:

Visit a Four Species Market:

The Four Species are four plants used during Sukkot – an etrog (citron), a lulav (palm branch), a hadas (myrtle twig), and an arava (willow twig). A few days before Sukkot, people come to the Four Species Market to get the finest Four Species for the holiday. There are several markets all around Israel. In Jerusalem, you can find a large market in the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, near Shabbat Square (Kikar HaShabbat) or near Machane Yehuda Market. Outside Jerusalem, there’s a huge Four Species market in Bnei Brak, the largest Ultra-Orthodox city in Israel. 

The Four Species represent the different people of the Jewish nation:

  • The etrog has both smell and taste, so it represents Jews who study the Torah and have good deeds.
  • The lulav has taste but no smell, so it represents Jews who study the Torah but do not do good deeds.
  • The hadas has smell but no taste, so it represents Jews who have good deeds but do not study the Torah.
  • The arava doesn’t have taste nor smell, so it represents Jews with no good deeds and no Torah.

Religious people will tie the Four Species together and wave them in a special ceremony on each day of the holiday, not including Shabbat. They do this because it is written in the Torah. It shows that even though not all of us are the same, we are still united. If you want to see the ceremony during Sukkot, go to a nearby synagogue in the morning. If you’re in Jerusalem, you can also go to the Western Wall. 

The Four Species. Pic by Kikar HaShabbat, from Wikipedia

Spend time in a sukkah:

The sukkah is the booth in which GOD ordered the Israelites to live in for seven days. In the plural, a sukkah is called “sukkot,” hence the name of the holiday. The religious people make sure to eat all their meals in the sukkah, and some even sleep in it.

When in Israel, you’ll see the sukkot everywhere – on the street, next to restaurants, in people’s porches. People start building the sukkot right after Rosh Hashanah, so you will notice them a few days before the holiday.

Another important part of Sukkot is the Ushpizin, the guests. It is a mitzvah, a divine commandment, to host as many guests as possible in your sukkah because true joy is only shared joy, and it’s important to be joyful during the holiday. Many people host the needy and the lonely. But even if you’re not needy or lonely, you can find a sukkah that will welcome you. As I said, there are sukkot everywhere. If you see an open sukkah, you can glance inside or even stay a bit to experience the holiday spirit. Find all the open sukkahs on opensukkah.com.

In this opportunity, I also want to recommend a great movie, “Ushpizin”. It talks about an Ultra-Orthodox couple who celebrate Sukkot and accidently host two escaped convicts as their Ushpizin. I’ve watched it twice already and love it! You can rent “Ushpizin” on Amazon.

Here is a video of a sukkah building by the IDF:

Visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem:

Sukkot is one of the three Pilgrimage Festivals together with Passover and Shavuot. During these festivals, the Jewish people used to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The Holy Temple doesn’t exist anymore, but you can still visit the Western Wall, the last remnant of the temple complex. Thousands of people visit the Western Wall during this time of year.

The Western Wall is open 24/7. There’s security at the entrance, and then you can come near the wall. At the central part of the Western Wall, women and men have separate areas of prayer. If you want to pray next to the opposite sex, you can do so in the smaller prayer area, south of the central one, called Ezrat Yisrael. The entrance is before the security, to the right.

To respect the holy place, please come in modest clothes, cover your shoulders and legs.

The Western Wall

Go hiking on the Israel National Trail:

As I said, Sukkot is meant to remind us of the Exodus. When the Israelites left Egypt, they walked for 40 years through the desert until they finally entered the Promised Land. Well, 40 years is a long time, so instead, you can hike for several days on the Israel National Trail. This way, you can experience a bit of what the Israelites felt when they went from one place to another. Also, you can take a tent, and camp along the way, which is kind of like staying in a temporary dwelling, isn’t it?

Late September is usually the start of the fall hiking season, but the weather might still be hot during Sukkot, so make sure to check the forecast before the hike. The Israel National Trail usually takes about two months to complete, but you don’t have to hike all of it in one go. Seven days could definitely be efficient. Learn more about the Israel National Trail in my ultimate preparation guide.      

One of the most beautiful sunrises on the Israel National Trail

Go camping for a few days:

If you don’t like hiking but still want to stay in a tent, you can camp in one of Israel’s many campgrounds. Many of them are free of charge but don’t have any facilities. If you want toilets, electricity, and other facilities, it might be worth paying a bit to stay in an organized campground. There are even some good campgrounds in the Israeli desert! Then, you can camp for a few days, cook outdoors, and try to imagine how the Israelites felt when they dwelled in temporary booths in the desert. Learn more by reading my post – Camping in Israel: The Basics.

Final thoughts:

Sukkot is one of the longest Jewish holidays. That’s why it’s a great time to hang out with family, friends, or strangers you meet during your travels. Whether you choose to learn more about the traditions of the holiday or explore the Israeli wildlife, I’m sure you’re going to have an awesome time! Happy Sukkot!

Want to learn more about holidays in Israel?

Read my post – Holidays in Israel and How to Spend Them During Travel.

Save this post for later!


If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share and a comment (:

If you need any help with planning your trip to Israel, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com.

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And plan a great trip to Israel using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Festivals & holidays Fun facts & enrichment

5 Ways to Celebrate Rosh Hashanah in Israel

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish Year. According to Jewish tradition, it is the day GOD created Adam and Eve. It is also the day GOD determines the fate of every one of us for the upcoming year. Will we become rich? Will we stay strong and healthy? Or is our fate doomed to poverty and illness? But luckily, GOD seals our fate only ten days later, on Yom Kippur. So, we have time to think about what we have done. If we’ve done something wrong, we can promise to behave better. Then, GOD might change his mind and give us a second chance.

If you’re planning to visit Israel on Rosh Hashanah, I’ve gathered 5 ways to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in Israel. Just keep in mind that public transportation does not operate during the holiday, which lasts two days. Also, most shops and places are closed.

Table of contents:

  1. When is Rosh Hashanah celebrated?
  2. 5 ways to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in Israel
    1. Hear the blowing of the shofar
    1. Drink freshly squeezed pomegranate juice
    1. Taste Israeli honey
    1. Go to a beach to watch the Tashlich
    1. Go look for Urginea Maritima
  3. Final tip

When is Rosh Hashanah celebrated?

This year (2021), Rosh Hashanah will begin at sundown on September 6 and end at nightfall on September 8. Every year, the date is slightly different. That’s because we celebrate our holidays according to the Hebrew calendar, which is different from the widely used Gregorian calendar. The first day of the Hebrew year is the 1st of Tishrei. Usually, this day falls either in September or October.

5 ways to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in Israel:

Hear the blowing of the shofar:

In the Bible, Rosh Hashanah is called “the day of blasting.” That’s why Jews are obligated to hear the blowing – or blasting – of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. A shofar is a horn of a kosher animal, usually a ram, used as a trumpet on special occasions.

At the start of the COVID pandemic, many people couldn’t leave their houses because of quarantine. We were at home too at that time. Then, I remember hearing someone shouting from the street: “Who needs to hear the shofar? Who here is in quarantine?” Some people shouted back at him: “Here, here.” And then he blasted the shofar a few times. So, you see, hearing the shofar blowing is very important in Judaism.

The Bible doesn’t tell us why we need to hear the blasting of the shofar. But some people have tried to explain. Some say that the blast is meant to awaken our souls, to stir the heart. This way, we’ll be able to think better about what we’ve done and what we would like to do from now on. Others say it is meant to humble us and fill us with awe before GOD.

If you want to hear the shofar blast as well, look for a nearby synagogue and go early in the morning. Usually, the shofar is blown during the morning service, after reading part of the Torah, the five first books of the Bible. But you might be able to hear it throughout the day, too. If the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, the shofar will not be blown on that day. Instead, it will be blown on Sunday.

A Jewish man blowing a shofar. Pic taken from the Matson Collection

Drink freshly squeezed pomegranate juice:

Almost every Jewish holiday is connected to some traditional food. On Rosh Hashanah, one of the most popular food items is the pomegranate. A few days or even weeks before Rosh Hashanah, you’ll see pomegranates all over the marketplaces. Ask the vendors if they can make freshly squeezed pomegranate juice for you. Those who like pomegranates love it!

The pomegranates are known as one of the “seven species of the Land of Israel.” In Jewish tradition, it symbolizes righteousness, wisdom, and knowledge. One blessing that many bless during Rosh Hashanah is: “May we be full of merits like the pomegranate.” That’s because the pomegranate is FULL of seeds. It is said to have 613 seeds, like the number of 613 commandments of the Torah. So, don’t miss the opportunity to get these merits ;-).

Keep in mind that most markets will be closed during Rosh Hashanah itself. So, try getting that cup of pomegranate juice right before or right after the holiday.  

A fresh pomegranate

Taste Israeli honey:

Another thing we love to eat on Rosh Hashanah is an apple in honey. We slice a red apple, dip it in honey, and say: “May we have a sweet year ahead.” One of the main reasons we eat the apple is because of its sweetness. Together with the sweetness of the honey, we hope for an ultra-sweet year ahead. But instead of sending you to apple orchards, I want to recommend a visit to an apiary, where bees and people make honey.

There are many apiaries all over Israel, from the north to the south. Some of them offer special tours just before Rosh Hashanah as part of the holiday spirit. But even if they don’t, I recommend visiting their store, tasting, and purchasing some Israeli-made honey. There are many types to taste, including classic wildflower honey, avocado honey, carob honey, and more.

I’ve been to Meshek Ofir near Alon HaGalil in Lower Galilee and really enjoyed the honey-tasting there. But one of the most popular honey brands in Israel is Yad Mordechai. You’ll find its honey almost in every supermarket. You can also visit its visitor center in kibbutz Yad Mordechai near Ashkelon. But if you want to taste honey in a truly surreal place, head to the desert landscape of the Arava and visit Porat Farm in Ein Yahav. No matter where you choose to go, it’ll be a great start for the Jewish year!  

Mmmm… honey!

Go to a beach to watch the Tashlich:

Tashlich is one of the main customs of Rosh Hashanah. It means “throw away.” On the first afternoon of the holiday, people go to a body of water and perform this special ceremony. It could be any body of water – a river, a pond, an ocean, and so on. If you want to witness this ceremony, the best place you can go is the sea. I can’t guarantee you’ll see it, but it’s certainly possible. If you’re in a city, people might also be performing the Tashlich next to one of the city’s fountains. So, you can check over there, too.

During the ceremony, people symbolically cast their sins into the water, evoking the verse: “And You shall cast their sins into the depths of the sea.” They first say the prayer. Then, they shake their pockets or the hem of their clothes above the water and empty their sins. If there are fish in the area, they might also throw some crumbs into the water because fish are a sign of blessing.  

If Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, the Tashlich will be done on Sunday. 

“Jews Performing Tashlich on Rosh Hashanah” by Aleksander Gierymski

Go look for Urginea Maritima:

Many Jewish holidays are connected to a specific season. Rosh Hashanah is one of the holidays that mark the beginning of the fall. Another thing that marks the beginning of the fall is the Urginea Maritima, a common plant in Israel. The plant starts blooming at the end of summer. In Naomi Shemer’s famous song, “On Rosh Hashanah,” she wrote: “On Rosh Hashanah, a Urginea Maritima turns on in the field like a memorial candle.” Believe me, it sounds much better in Hebrew!

If you like nature, there’s plenty of it in Israel. Rent a car and go look for Urginea Maritima. They should already be blooming at this time of the year. Here are some places that have a large concentration of Urginea Maritima:

  • Tel Yodfat in the Lower Galilee. This site is also worth visiting because it was the site of one of the first battles during the First Jewish-Roman War.
  • The Bible Hill in Jerusalem. If you’re already in Jerusalem and don’t want to wander too far, you can find a bit of nature near the First Station. There’s a short but steep climb from David Remez Street in front of the First Station. You can also enjoy a nice view of the surroundings from up there.
  • Horvat Karta near Atlit. There’s a short trail that goes up to a hill overlooking the Coastal Plain. At the top, there are many Urginea Maritima and also ruins of a Crusader-era fortress.

Here you can see a nice video of the Urginea Maritima plants at Tel Yodfat, taken by Yermi Ben Tzvi:

Final tip:

Rosh Hashanah is a wonderful holiday that fuels us with new energy for the upcoming year. Besides the 5 ways mentioned, try to join a local family for their Rosh Hashanah seder. It might be difficult to find, but if you happen to stumble upon a local feast, it’s the best way to experience the holiday. This is how my Rosh Hashanah usually looks like.

Have a nice holiday in Israel!

Want to learn more about holidays in Israel?

Read my post – Holidays in Israel and How to Spend Them During Travel.

Save this post for later!


If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share and a comment (:

If you need any help with planning your trip to Israel, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com.

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And plan a great trip to Israel using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Free things to do Jerusalem

Church of the Holy Sepulchre: A Full Visitor’s Guide

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is a sight to see, no matter if you are Christian or non-Christian. As a tour guide in Jerusalem, I’ve been to this church dozens of times, but it manages to amaze me over and over again. Usually, it’s packed with tourists and pilgrims, and you can barely see anything. But nowadays, with the coronavirus pandemic, the church stands empty. It gave me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to look around without rush.

So why is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre so important to Christians around the world? What can you see inside? And when should you come? Here’s a full visitor’s guide to the magnificent Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Table of contents:

  1. Why is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre important?
  2. History of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
  3. The Status Quo
  4. What is the best time to visit the church?
  5. How to get there?
  6. Etiquette rules
  7. What to see in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?
  8. More things to do in Jerusalem

Why is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre important?

Thousands of Christian believers visit the church every year. According to tradition, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is the place where Jesus was crucified and buried. Three days afterward, he resurrected and left his tomb, which is why it is empty today. So, the church is so important because it is the place of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

History of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

In the time of Jesus (the 1st century):

Archeological excavations suggest that in the time of Jesus, this place was a rock quarry. This rock quarry operated between the 7th century BCE and the 1st century CE. Till today, you can still see some remnants of this quarry at the bottommost floor of the church.

Inside the church, you will also see ancient tombs from the time of the Second Temple. These tombs suggest that there was a cemetery here. Generally, Jews do not bury within the city. This means that this area might have been outside the city walls at that time.

A pagan temple is built:

In 135 CE, when the Romans turned Jerusalem into Aelia Capitolina, a pagan temple was built on top of the quarry. The temple was dedicated to Aphrodite-Venus, the Goddess of Love.

The first church is established:

After years of persecution of Christians by the Roman empire, the Christian religion was legalized in 313 CE by the Roman emperor, Constantine the Great. Helena, the mother of Constantine, visited the Holy Land in 326 CE. She decided to break down the pagan temple that stood here and to look for Jesus’ tomb. With the help of a local Jew, she found it underneath the temple. That is why she ordered to build a church on this place.

In 335, the church was inaugurated and named “Anastasis”, which means “resurrection”. Only when the Crusaders arrived in the 11th century, people started calling it the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which means “the Church of the Holy Tomb.” 

When the church was first built, it was much larger than we see today. In the middle of the church was a large open-air garden. Inside the garden was a large rock, which is believed to be the rock on which Jesus was crucified. Today, we call it the Golgotha. West to the garden was the rotunda, where the empty tomb was and still is located. The original entrance to the church was from the east, from one of the city’s main streets. 

Here is how it might have looked like:

This painting was uploaded by Tamar HaYardeni, who found it in the church

Destruction and rebuilding of the church:

Almost 700 years passed. The Persians and the Muslims conquered Jerusalem, but the church remained quite unharmed. This changed in 1009, when the Fatimid caliph, al-Ḥākim bi-Amr Allāh, gave an order to demolish the church. While most of the church was destructed, you can still see some rows from the original wall inside it.

When the Christians rebuilt the church in 1048, it was much smaller than the original. The entrance to the church moved from the east to the south, where it is located today.

Later, in 1099, when the Crusaders arrived as part of the Crusades, they were shocked by the looks of the church. They were expecting to see something splendid and divine but instead, found something extremely modest. So, they decided to rebuild the compound and make major changes. They built a huge roof and domes above the church, so the garden was no longer open to the sky.

In modern times:

The church stood almost unharmed for centuries until a fire broke in it in 1808. This fire caused much damage and required extended renovations. The owners of the church used the opportunity to add a few more walls to the compound. This made the church darker and more claustrophobic.

Later, in 1927, an earthquake shook Jerusalem and the church. It led to another round of renovations. Catholic archeologists used the opportunity to make excavations in the church for the first time. These excavations helped us learn a lot about the history of the holy place.

The Status Quo:

In Latin, “Status quo” means “the existing state of affairs.” The property rights and liturgy rights in the Christian holy places of the Holyland have been dynamic for centuries. But they have stopped being dynamic since the mid-19th century. Following the Crimean War, several great powers signed the Paris Treaty in 1856. Amongst other things, they pledged to observe the status quo of the Christian holy places. So, they could no longer change the existing state of affairs unless the owners agreed.

The agreement refers to only four sites in the Holyland: The Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, Mary’s Tomb at the base of Mount of Olives, the Chapel of Ascension on Mount of Olives, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem.

When the Status Quo started, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was divided between six Christian denominations. Those denominations are the Catholic-Franciscans, the Greek-Orthodox, the Armenians, the Copts, the Assyrians, and the Ethiopians. Each one of the denominations is responsible for different spaces in the church. Some spaces are owned by two different denominations, which sometimes causes problems because then they need to both agree to change things in the particular space. The ownership of the different spaces has stayed the same since the mid-19th century.

When is the best time to visit the church?

Normally, when there are tourists, the church is packed during the afternoon. If you’re planning to enter the empty tomb itself, be aware that the waiting time might be very long, sometimes even more than an hour. If you want to get away from the crowds, come early in the morning or late in the evening. I advise coming before 9 AM or after 6 PM. In the early morning, it is usually less packed. But keep in mind that the first hour of the morning is dedicated to cleaning. Also, entrance is no allowed half an hour before closing time. By the way, entrance is free of charge!

The opening hours of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre vary according to month:

From April to August from 5 AM to 9 PM.

In September, from 5 AM to 8:30 PM.

In October, from 5 AM to 8 PM.

From the end of October to February from 4 AM to 7 PM.

In March, from 4 AM to 7:30 PM.

For the most accurate hours, visit the Christian Information Center website.

How to get there?

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. To get there, you will need to walk. You can enter the city through Jaffa Gate, the New Gate, or Damascus Gate. It’s about a 5-minutes walk from all of them.

Etiquette rules:

  • Take off your hat before entering the church. I have already been with someone who was walking around with a hat, and one of the monks asked him to take it off.
  • Dress modestly.
  • Do not smoke in the area of the church.
  • Do not eat or drink beverages in the church.
  • Be respectful of the place. Try to keep as quiet as possible and definitely do not laugh.

What to see in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?

I think the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the most magnificent churches in the world. It is enormous, so there’s a lot of things to see inside. So, I won’t go over every detail, but I’ll tell you about the main things to see:

The façade:

Before you enter the church, take a look at its façade. Yes, it’s quite simple, but there are some things to talk about:

The stairs:

You can see a short staircase on the right side of the façade. The staircase leads to a small chapel with a dome. In 1149, the Crusaders used this chapel as the direct entrance to the Golgotha, the crucifixion point. Instead of entering the church and then climbing up to the Golgotha, the pilgrims could simply climb up from here.

The Unmovable Ladder:

Look below the right-hand window, and you’ll see a wooden ladder. In Wikipedia, it is called “the Unmovable Ladder.” After the Crusader period, the rights of the Christians of Jerusalem were very limited. They had to block part of the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and were not allowed to ring the bells. Also, the church was locked throughout the year, and they were allowed to open it only once or twice a year on important holidays. The problem was that the monks lived in the church. They had to get food. So, they climbed down the ladder to the windowsill, lowered a rope with a basket, and someone loaded it with food supplies.

In 1831, an Egyptian ruler named Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt arrived and improved the rights of the minorities. Since then, the church is open every day. The ladder was no longer needed, but for some reason stayed there. And then, in 1856, the Status Quo kicked in, and the ladder became its symbol. It shows that even the smallest thing is not changeable. Even if they would want to move the ladder, it would be a problem. It is not clear who is the owner of the ladder. The windowsill belongs to the Greek-Orthodox, while the room behind the window belongs to the Armenians. Only the rightful owner can move it from its place.

The doors:

Here’s a fun fact: The keys to the church are kept in the hands of two Muslim families. They claim that they got the keys in the time of Saladin, around the late 12th-century. If you’re lucky, you might meet the family representative on the bench inside the church. They hold the keys because that was the state in the mid-19th century, and it stayed that way because of the Status Quo. They also perform the opening and closing of the church every day.

The facade of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Stone of Anointing:

When you enter the church, the first thing you see is the Stone of Anointing, also known as the Stone of Unction. If there are pilgrims, they will usually be on their knees next to the stone, touching it. Some also place small items on it for a few seconds and then take them back home. They believe that the items absorb the holiness of Jesus because his body was laid here after being removed from the cross. Here, they believe he was prepared for burial.

Jesus was a Jew, and Jews cannot be buried during the holy day of Shabbat. According to tradition, Jesus died on Friday morning. Though, there are scholars who believe he died on Thursday afternoon (see this article for example). Anyway, they had to prepare him fast to bury him before Shabbat enters on Friday eve. The preparation included anointment and wrapping of the body in shrouds.

Look on the wall in front of the Stone of Anointment. There’s a modern mosaic depicting the crucifixion, the preparation for burial, and the burial itself.     

The Stone of Anointing

The Golgotha:

From the entrance, turn right, and climb up a set of steep stairs to the second floor. Here, you can see the topmost edge of the Golgotha, believed to be the rock on which Jesus was put on the cross. Today it is secured underneath a thick layer of glass so pilgrims won’t break a piece to take home.

The space is made of two chapels, one is Catholic-Franciscan and the other Greek-Orthodox. The first chapel you enter is the Catholic one, with beautiful modern mosaics on the walls. One of the mosaics shows the scene of the Binding of Isaac. There’s a ram, a male sheep, caught in the thickets. In the Biblical story, Abraham sacrificed it instead of Isaac. The other mosaic in the chapel shows Jesus nailed to the cross. In the background, there’s a bush, but there’s no ram caught in it. That’s because Jesus is going to be sacrificed. In this case, according to Christian belief, Jesus is like the ram for humanity.

The Greek-Orthodox chapel rises above the Golgotha. The Golgotha is about 5 meters (16 feet) tall. In the past, this area was an open garden, and you could really appreciate the height of it. But now you can only imagine. If you want to see a bit more of the Golgotha, climb down the other set of stairs and then turn right. You’ll see another bit of the rock behind glass.

Jesus nailed to the cross
The Golgotha

The Chapel of the Finding of the Holy Cross:

Exit the Golgotha from the other set of stairs and then turn right. Continue through the curving corridor until you see another set of stairs to your right, going down. As you climb down the stairs, notice the small crosses sunken in the stone walls. These are ancient graffiti done by thousands of pilgrims over the years.

At the bottom of the stairs, you’ll reach the Chapel of Saint Helena. It’s a beautiful chapel owned by the Armenians, with many mosaics, paintings, and wall paintings.

On the right side of the chapel, you’ll find another set of stairs. They’ll lead you to the Chapel of the Finding of the Holy Cross. The chapel walls are probably part of an ancient quarry, that existed here in the time of the Romans. According to tradition, this is where Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, found the True Cross. There’s a statue of Saint Helena here, holding the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

There are many legends connected to the finding of the True Cross. One of them tells that Helena forced a Jew to tell her where the cross was hidden. She made him starve for a week in a dry well until he led her to this place. Then, he dug and revealed three crosses. One belonged to Jesus, one to the Good Thief, and one to the Bad Thief. All three were crucified together on the same day. So, which one belonged to Jesus? Luckily, a funeral passed by, and Helena hurried to test the crosses on the dead body. They placed one cross on the body, and nothing happened. They placed the second cross, and nothing happened. Then, they placed the third cross, and the man came back to life.

The Holy Sepulchre:

Climb back up to the corridor and walk to the other side of the church, the circular Rotunda. There, you’ll find the Holy Sepulchre, the empty tomb of Jesus. Look up to see the spectacular ceiling. If you’ll come during daylight, you’ll see the sun rays spilling through the hole in the ceiling.

According to Christian belief, Jesus was buried here, in a burial cave originally intended for Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph was a rich man and a disciple of Jesus, and because Jesus didn’t have a burial cave, he offered his own. Three days after the burial, on Sunday, a group of women came to visit the tomb. But they found it open. When they stepped inside, they saw an angel that told them: “You came to visit Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, but he is not here, because he was raised from the dead.”

The Holy Sepulchre is found inside the Aedicule, the small chapel in the middle of the Rotunda. The Aedicule is made of two rooms. In the first one, you’ll find a relic of the Angel’s Stone. This stone is believed to be part of the large stone that sealed the tomb. In the second room, you’ll find what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus. When there are many tourists, entering the Aedicule could take a very long time, sometimes even more than an hour. And every visitor can only stay a few moments in the chapel.

Light above the Holy Sepulchre

About the Holy Fire:

One of the most important Christian ceremonies take place in the Aedicule every year, on the night before Easter Sunday. The Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem enters the Aedicule and comes out with the “Holy Fire.” Then, the fire is passed between thousands of believers, who want to take a bit of the holiness back home.

Watch this video by the Christian Youth Channel to get a better understanding of the ceremony:

The Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea:

West of the Aedicule, you’ll find a door leading to the Chapel of Joseph of Arimathea. What’s interesting here are the ancient niche tombs located just outside the chapel. They are typical of Jewish burial in the Second Temple period. According to a new tradition, these are the tombs of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Both helped prepare Jesus for burial. Joseph of Arimathea gave him his tomb; Nicodemus brought a large mixture of myrrh and aloes to make it a royal burial.

Jewish people never buried their dead within the walls. That is why these niche tombs are important. They prove this area was outside the city walls sometime during the Second Temple period. So, it is one of the archeological proofs that this could be the place of Jesus’ crucifixion.

“The Center of the World” – the Catholicon:

Get back to the Rotunda and walk to the other side of the Aedicule. Right in front of its entrance, there’s a huge hall called the Catholicon. Usually, it is closed by a rope.

The Catholicon was built by the Crusaders on the place of the Holy Garden. It was the central nave of the Crusader-era church. Above it, is the largest Crusader-era dome in Israel.

In the hall, there’s a low, circular object made from stone, called “omphalos.” According to Greek-Orthodox tradition, this omphalos symbolizes the center of the world. Jews also believe that Jerusalem is the center of the world, but they say it is where the Foundation Stone is, beneath the Dome of the Rock. That is where the Holy Temple stood. In Christianity, the tradition moved to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and specifically to the Catholicon.  

Guided tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

As you can see, there’s a lot to see in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. If you want to learn more and get answers to all of your questions, consider joining a guided tour. Many guided tours combine the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in their route. If you want a more personalized experience or only want a guide for the church, I’ll be happy to be your private guide. Contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com or read more about my guided tours here.

More things to do in Jerusalem:

The Many Sites of Mount of Olives: What to See?

Ein Karem: Following John the Baptist

Top Free Things to Do in Jerusalem Old City

Top Free Things to Do in Jerusalem


If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share and a comment (:

If you need any help with planning your trip to Israel, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com.

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And plan a great trip to Israel using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Food Tel Aviv

Bnei Brak: A Glimpse into the Ultra-Orthodox World

Last month I joined a guided tour in Bnei Brak, the largest ultra-orthodox city in Israel. It’s right next door to Tel Aviv but feels miles away. Kids are walking alone in the streets, all the men are dressed in black and white, all the women wear skirts, and there are no coffee shops. Usually, secular people don’t go there unless they want to learn more about the Jewish ultra-orthodox community or taste the traditional Ashkenazi food. That is what we were doing on our tour.

The tour was led by Pini Gorelick, an orthodox Jew from the Hasidic dynasty of Chabad-Lubavitch. He doesn’t live in Bnei Brak but visits quite often. So, you can count on him to show you the most interesting places. He also has great stories to tell about the ultra-orthodox community. I booked the group tour in Hebrew, but you can try to book a private tour too. No matter how you plan to tour Bnei Brak, just make sure to come in modest clothing that will respect the place. By modest I mean long pants or skirts and sleeved shirts for the women, and long pants for the men.

We walked in the streets of Bnei Brak for four hours and talked about many aspects of the Jewish ultra-orthodox world. In this post, I’ll only touch a few.

Table of contents:

The history of Bnei Brak

Ashkenazi VS Sephardic Jews

The mikveh

Kosher internet

The difference between Rav and Rebbe

The obligation of giving

Matchmaking and marriage

Food!

The history of Bnei Brak:

We started our tour with a short overview of Bnei Brak. Today it is the largest ultra-orthodox city in Israel. It is also the 8th-most densely populated city in the world, with almost 28,000 people per square kilometer. But like many large cities in Israel, it started as an agricultural village.

It was established in 1924 by a group of religious Jewish people from Poland. They bought the land from an Arab family who lived in the nearby Al-Khayriyya village. The village was named Bnei Brak after an ancient city by the same name.

In the time of the Second Temple, ancient Bnei Brak was a Jewish city. After the First Jewish-Roman War, it became a center of Torah learning. Rabbi Akiva, one of the leading Jewish scholars, opened his yeshiva in Bnei Brak and taught many students there. A yeshiva is a Jewish educational institution focusing on the study of religious texts. The Haggadah of Passover mentions Bnei Brak as well: “It happened that Rabbis Eliezer, Joshua, Elazar ben Azaryah, Akiva and Tarfon were reclining at the seder table in Bnei Brak. They spent the whole night discussing the Exodus until their students came and said to them: “Rabbis, it is time for the recitation of the Shema.” The ruins of ancient Bnei Brak are found near the city, next to Mesubim (“reclining”) Junction.  

Bnei Brak was declared a city in 1950. From then on, it started expanding tremendously. When more and more people started arriving in the city, a question arose – should Bnei Brak continue as a religious-Zionist city or turn to an ultra-orthodox city? Eventually, the ultra-orthodox population dominated the city, and the other groups left to the surrounding cities.

The main street of Bnei Brak in 1928

Ashkenazi VS Sephardic Jews:

We walked on Rashi Street and stopped at the junction with Bertenura Street. Our guide pointed to the west and said: “See that huge building over there? That’s Ponevezh Yeshiva, the most famous yeshiva in the Lithuanian world. Sephardic Jews are not accepted there.”

Let’s leave the tour for a moment to talk about Sephardic Jews. To understand the different groups in the ultra-orthodox world, you first need to understand the difference between Ashkenazi Jews (which also include the Lithuanians) and Sephardic Jews. The difference is mainly connected to their historical origins. In the Middle Ages, “Ashkenaz” referred to the area along the Rhine River in Western Germany and Northern France. The Jews who lived there developed their own traditions and rites. Today, the term “Ashkenaz” has expanded to many parts of Europe. So, when we say Ashkenazi Jews, we mean Jews who have roots in those areas.  Sephardic means “Spain”, but Sephardic Jews are associated with many other countries in North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of southeast Europe. For some reason, the Ashkenazi Jews saw themselves as superior to the Sephardic Jews, especially in the ultra-orthodox world.

Lithuanians VS Hasidim:

Our guide said that today, most Ashkenazi communities no longer reject Sephardic Jews. But still, there’s the Lithuanian community. They are still racist towards the Sephardic community. Following this racism, the religious political party of Shas was established as a Sephardic-Lithuanian movement. They wanted to give space to Sephardic Jews who were not accepted to Ashkenazi educational institutions.

Aside from the Lithuanians, there are also the Hasidim.  About 300 years ago, the Ashkenazi community in eastern Europe believed that the most important thing is to study Torah. Whoever wasn’t capable of studying was rejected from the community. In some places, there were even separate synagogues for students and the rest of the public. This ended when the Baal Shem Tov, one of the greatest Jewish mystics, founded the Hasidic movement. He said: “Everyone is equal in the community and is measured by his effort and not his success.” So, in the Hasidic communities, Sephardic Jews can be accepted as long as they show effort. The most accepting Hasidic dynasty is Chabad.  

The mikveh:

To the west of the junction stood a huge house. “This is the house of the Rebbe of the Machnovka dynasty,” our guide said. It’s a huge house because it’s also where the Rebbe meets his Hasidim, consults them, and eats Shabbat dinner with them. It’s also where he studies. And besides all that, there’s also a mikveh in the building. Most secular Jews are only aware of mikvehs for women, but there are also mikvehs for men, and this is one of them.

In Judaism, a person can be in two states – impure and pure. In the time of the Jewish Temples, there was more significance to the impurity and purity, because many actions could not be performed during impurity. According to Jewish law, women need to go to the mikveh before their marriage. After they are married, women get impure every time they have menstruation. But after the period, they can get pure again by immersing in the water of a mikveh. Until she does that, her husband is not allowed to touch her.

So, what exactly is a mikveh? It’s a bath used for Jewish ritual immersion to achieve purity. The water in the mikveh is natural water, that comes from rainwater or a natural spring. A mikveh can also be a natural lake, river, or sea. When you immerse in the water, you must be completely naked and with no objects that might interfere the contact with your skin.

Men in the mikveh:

So why do men go to the mikveh? Our guide explained that the Hasidic men go to the mikveh every day. Why every day? Because they must immerse in the mikveh after every night they had an ejaculation. Of course, they don’t have an ejaculation every night. But to avoid discomfort, the Hasidic movement decided that everyone will go to the mikveh every morning.

Unlike mikvehs for women, in a mikveh for men there is no privacy. All the men immerse in the same space and can see one another. Because they are all naked, it is inappropriate to talk about the Torah. Instead, they gossip and spread rumors. “The hottest news is spread in the mikveh,” our guide told us.   

Kosher internet:

When we say “Kosher” in the secular world, we talk about food. If the food is kosher, it means that it is compliant with the Jewish dietary laws. But in the ultra-orthodox world, “kosher” is a much wider term that can refer to clothing, the internet, phones. All those must be compliant with the Jewish laws.

We stopped by a Lemehadrin Kosher internet café. The ultra-orthodox houses don’t have computers. If you work in the computer field, you can ask your Rebbe for permission to have internet at home. In any case, the internet must be kosher. What does it mean? It means there’s a software that scans all the websites and blocks inappropriate and unmodest content. That includes photos of women, abusive language, and so on.

Whoever wants to stay on the safe side, can use Lemehadrin Kosher internet. That’s the most strictly kosher internet. The supplier of the internet only shows websites that were reviewed and approved. If someone wants their website to appear on the Lemehadrin Kosher internet, they need to go to the supplier and ask him to check their site. Who checks the websites? People who have left the ultra-orthodox community. On one hand, there’s no problem that they will see inappropriate content because they aren’t ultra-orthodox anymore. On the other hand, they came from the ultra-orthodox world, so they know what’s not allowed.

The internet cafe. One door for women, one door for men

The difference between Rav and Rebbe:

We wandered a bit in the streets of Bnei Brak and then stopped next to a synagogue on Rabenu Tam Street. Next to the synagogue was a room called House of Teaching. This is where our guide told us the difference between a Rav and a Rebbe.

The Rav teaches Halakha, which are the Jewish religious laws derived from the Written and Oral Torah. So, people come to him to ask what to do according to the religious laws. “But we are raised in a world full of protocols. Everything is written. So why do we need someone to ask about the laws?” our guide said, “It’s because some of the laws are connected to personal judgment. When there’s room for personal judgment, many people prefer that the Rav will use his judgment.” People believe that the Rav is wiser and has more experience, so it’s better that he’ll take the call.

The fact that there is personal judgment means that someone can go to one Rav, get an answer, and then go to another Rav and get a different answer on the same question. That’s why people choose which Rav to go to depending on what they want to hear. Sometimes, a Rav will even give a different answer to two different people on the same question.

The Rebbe, on the other hand, is not a teacher of Halakha. He is the spiritual leader of his community. His people come to him to ask daily life questions. For example, they ask if they should do a driving lesson, which profession to learn, what school to send their children to, and so on. Usually, the Rebbe is very charismatic and often considered a sage.

The obligation of giving:

During the tour, we visited the Rabbanit of the Machnovka dynasty, the wife of the Rebbe. She told us: “Both the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea get their water from the Jordan River. The difference between them is that the Sea of Galilee receives the water from the north and releases water from the south. The Dead Sea, on the other hand, only receives water. Maybe that is why the Sea of Galilee is so full of life and the Dead Sea so dead.”

Giving tzedakah:

While touring Bnei Brak, we discovered that giving is one of the most important things in ultra-orthodox life. “The people here always want to be the ones who give and not the ones who are needy. Sometimes they will buy less food just so they will have enough money to give charity. They’ll say: ‘My condition isn’t that bad. There are people who need this money more than me,'” said our guide.

We stood in the busy junction of Rashi Street and Rabbi Akiva Street. All around us, we could see charity boxes. Well, not exactly “charity” but rather “tzedakah boxes.” Unlike charity, which is usually done as a spontaneous act of goodwill, tzedakah is something you do because of ethical obligation. We learned that the ultra-orthodox give tzedakah every day, even a small sum. Most of them know the people behind each tzedakah box, so they know who they trust and put their money in the relevant box. 

A tzedakah box on the street

Opening gemachim:

We also learned about the gemachim (gemach in plural). In Hebrew, the word “gemach” is an acronym for the Jewish term “gemilut chasidim”, which means the giving of lovingkindness. Traditionally, a gemach was a money-lending fund, free of interest. Today, a gemach is a place where you can borrow useful items free of charge. And everyone can open a gemach. If you have a lot of household tools that you don’t use all the time, you can open a gemach for tools. People who need to fix something in their house don’t have to go buy a tool. They can simply come to you, take it for a while, and return it when they’re done.

Our guide told us that before the plastic dishes became common, one of the most needed gemachim were dishware gemachim. The ultra-orthodox families usually have many children, but sometimes they also host people from outside their family, and then they need more dishware. Instead of buying dozens of dishware, they can borrow some dishes, and return them after the meal. Some gemachim don’t even ask you to clean the dishes because they do it anyway.

How do you find the gemachim? In the phone book. “There is even a gemach for lost children,” our guide told us. “If you find a lost child on the street, you take him or her to the gemach, and the parents know to look for them there.”

Matchmaking and marriage:

Near the end of the tour, we stopped to talk about matchmaking and marriage. In Bnei Brak, there is no such thing as meeting your second half by chance. Every relationship begins with a matchmaker. During high school, the teenagers perform a DNA test through an organization, which keeps the results for the matchmaker. They never see the results. When the time comes, the matchmaker thinks of a match, contacts the organization, and checks if there is any genetic problem with the match.  If it’s ok, he or she goes to the parents to ask them if they think it’s a good idea. They don’t even ask the young couple.

After the matchmaker comes to the parents, they usually hire a private investigator specializing in matchmaking inquiries. The investigator knows who to ask and how to ask to get all the information they need about the potential spouse. They ask about beauty, character, genetics, their family… Everything. If the parents are happy with the results of the investigation, they organize a meeting between the couple.

The couple sits together in a room and gets about 20 minutes to talk privately. Then, the father of the potential bride comes in and asks: “Well, ok?” If they say it’s ok, everyone comes into the room and bless the couple: “Mazal tov! Mazal tov!” which means “congratulations.” This means they’re going to be engaged. This is how things go in some of the stricter Hasidic dynasties. In others, they might get a few more meetings before they need to decide, but not more than 4-5 meetings. Anyway, “You don’t marry the one you fell in love with. You fall in love with the one you married,” our guide said.

Food!

All along the tour, we got to taste some of the delicacies of the Ashkenazi community of Bnei Brak. Because no cultural tour is complete without a taste of the local food!

Kugel:

Our first food stop was at Muchan U’mezuman Restaurant at 17 Chason Ish Street. There, we stopped to taste kugel, a kind of pudding made either from egg noodles or mashed potatoes. We got to taste both variations. It is a very popular dish during Shabbat because you can keep it on the heating surface from Friday evening. Some said that it was a bit spicy, but I felt it was a bit sweet. Anyway, it was my favorite dish!

Kugel from egg noodles and mashed potatoes

Galareta and gefilte fish:

Next, we stopped at Deliketes at 92 Rabbi Akiva Street. There, the highlight dishes were gefilte fish and galareta, also known as “calves’ foot jelly.” I know gefilte fish from my grandmother’s house, so it was familiar, but have never tasted galareta before. It looked like jelly but had such an awful taste that I just couldn’t eat it. The other people in the group ate it without any problems, so maybe my taste buds are too sensitive.

The galareta is made from the feet bones of calves or chickens. In times of shortage, families from eastern Europe used every bit of the meat, and that’s how the galareta was born. They cooked the bones for long hours on a small flame, added salt, pepper, and garlic, and waited for the bones to soften. After they softened, they grounded and crashed them, and placed them aside to cool down. While cooling down, the smashed bones turn to jelly.

The brownish jelly is the galareta

Gefilte fish are grounded fish balls usually made from carp. They were also invented in eastern Europe, where the majority of Jews were poor. On Shabbat, it is a religious commandment to eat meat, poultry, or fish. Because the fish were cheaper than the alternatives, many families chose to eat them during Shabbat dinner. To get the most out of the fish, they grounded and made fish balls out of it.

Both the galareta and the gefilte fish are popular Shabbat and holiday dishes. Personally, we eat gefilte fish every Passover.

Sliced gefilte fish and salads

Cholent:

Our last stop was at Shloimi’le on 4 HaRav Shach Street. This kiosk is located right next to a 24/7 synagogue. It has everything you can imagine, from cakes and pastries, through sandwiches, to cooked food. We came there to taste the cholent, also known as hamin. It is one of the most popular Shabbat morning dishes amongst many Jewish groups.

The basic ingredients include potatoes, beans, barley, and meat. But because Shloimi’le is a dairy kiosk, there was no meat in our cholent. The ingredients are put into a big pot on Friday, before the Shabbat begins, and are simmered overnight in a slow oven. Usually, they are simmered for about 12 hours. The slow overnight cooking strengthens and blends the flavors and produces the great taste of the traditional cholent.

Those were the main points of the tour. We finished with a warm dish of cholent, happy and insighted.

The pot of cholent in the kiosk

Have more questions about Jewish people in Israel?

Read my post – Jews in Israel: 8 Questions You Might Ask.

Pin this post for later!


If you liked this post or found it useful, I would really appreciate a like, a share and a comment (:

If you have any questions about travel in Israel, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com.

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And plan a great trip to Israel using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Free things to do Hiking in Israel Israel National Trail

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Beit Meir to Ein Karem

We woke up at Beit Meir and started our final day on the Israel National Trail. When we started this journey, our goal was to reach Jerusalem. The trail continues beyond Jerusalem, but we didn’t have the time to hike it all at once. So, one month of hiking was enough.

The segment from Beit Meir to Ein Karem passes above and through the Forest of the Martyrs. The forest was planted in memory of those who were perished in the Holocaust. After a slightly steep decline comes a short ascent and the trail continues on an easy route with splendid views. We passed through a kibbutz, next to an ancient fortress, and made our way to Ein Karem. There, we got the first glimpse of Jerusalem, dipped in the water spring, and walked by ancient agricultural terraces. Then, the trail continues to Ein Karem, one of the most charming neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

Trail length: About 22 km. You can also hike it from the other direction.

Trail duration: About 10 hours, depending on your pace.

Difficulty level: Moderate to hard.  

Best season: Fall (October-November) and Spring (February-April).

Water along the way: You can get water in Beit Meir, near the starting point. Next, there’s a drinking tap near the entrance to Tzova (about 12.3 km from the start). There’s also a drinking tap in Ein Karem, near the public restrooms, at the endpoint.  

Stay options at the end of the trail: We finished our hike in Ein Karem, so we didn’t need to look for places to stay. There are some trail angels in Ein Karem and the area. You can also take advantage of the opportunity and stay a few days in Jerusalem to explore the city. Check out my full Jerusalem travel guide for budget travelers. Israel National Trail hikers can also enter the Israel Museum for free if they show their backpacks at the entrance.

Read about the previous segment: From Mahal Memorial to Beit Meir.

Table of contents:

Safety instructions and general notes

How to get to the head of the trail?

The hike from Beit Meir to Ein Karem

Leaving the trail

Read more

Safety instructions and general notes:

· The hike is under your responsibility, so please be careful.

· Make sure you hike with good hiking shoes, have at least 3 liters of water, and wear a hat. Pack food and snacks for a full day of hiking. Also, make sure to bring a garbage bag as well and take your garbage with you, including toilet paper.

· Don’t go on the hike when it is too hot (over 30 degrees Celsius) because it’s not enjoyable and can end with heatstroke. After rainfall, this segment could be a bit slippery, so be careful!

· Pay attention to sunset hours (in Summer around 6-7 PM, in Winter around 4-5 PM). It’s best to start hiking around 6 AM. This way, you will have time to rest in the hot hours of the afternoon and get to the end of the trail before sunset. 

· The phone signal is good throughout most of the trail.

· Before you begin the hike, make sure you have a good trail map. The trail isn’t always well marked, so it’s good to have a map. You can also use a navigation app such as the Israel Hiking Map. With GPS, you can also see where you are exactly. Though, remember that wherever you do see a trail mark – this trail mark is superior to what’s shown on your map. You can also download the trail map in English (created by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel). For this segment, you will need to download this map. The map is extremely basic but gives you a general sense of the trail. The first part of the segment does not appear here. Unfortunately, couldn’t find it.

· The trail is marked with the Israel National Trail colors, orange-blue-white.

· If you need any further help planning your trail, I recommend posting on the Israel National Trail forum on Tapatalk. Of course, you can also talk to me through lior@backpackisrael.com.

To reach the trailhead, you will need to get to Beit Meir. From Jerusalem, take bus 186 that leaves from the Jerusalem ICC Station. The station is on the road to the south of the Yitzhak Navon Railway Station. From Tel Aviv and Haifa, you will need to first reach Jerusalem and then take bus 186 to Beit Meir. Anyway, it’s best to use a navigation app like Google Maps or Moovit to find the best route for you.

The hike from Beit Meir to Ein Karem:

Taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/

From Beit Meir to the Bnei Brit Cave:

We left Beit Meir and went down the access road to the Israel National Trail (1). There was a big sign next to the road explaining the upcoming segment. The segment started on a blue-marked route, but after 350 meters, continued on a black-marked one. To our left, we could see the stunning view of the Forest of the Martyrs. It was planted in memory of the people who were perished by the Nazis in the Holocaust. They say there are six million trees in this forest, symbolizing the six million Jewish victims, but I haven’t counted.

The view at twilight

After about 1.2 km, we turned left to a blue-marked route (2). The trail curved down a steep decline between the trees and bushes. Then, after about 1.2 km, we reached the Bnei Brit Cave (Martyrs Cave) and the Anne Frank Memorial (3). There were picnic tables nearby, so we stopped for a coffee break.

The Bnei Brit Cave is a natural cave that was expanded. “Bnei Brit” means “allies.” It’s supposed to be a place where people go to connect to the memory of the Holocaust victims, but it’s closed with a gate. The communion is done only on special occasions. A few steps away is the Anne Frank Memorial. The memorial is made from a set of signs, on which appear quotes from Anne’s journal. There is also a sweet chestnut tree. In her journal, Anne Frank wrote about a sweet chestnut tree she saw from her hideout. That tree was her only connection to the outer world.

Down the blue-marked route…
Near the Bnei Brit Cave
1 – Map taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/
2 – Map taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/

From Bnei Brit Cave to Tzova:

We turned to the east on a red-marked asphalt road. The road continues right and upwards on a blue-marked route.

As we climbed up the road, an enormous truck passed by us. A short while later, we saw it up high on another road, facing another truck. The road was so narrow that the two couldn’t pass each other. One of the trucks had to do a reverse, and only then the other one could pass.

We continued up the curvy road until it got flat. Now, we were hiking on the Southern Scenic Route of the Forest of the Martyrs. There was a splendid view of a green forest to our left, many bikers rode past us, and everything was pleasant.

The Southern Scenic Route

The Scenic Route continues for about 9.5 km. Near the end of the route, we could see the houses of Givat Yearim to our left. Givat Yearim is a semi-cooperative moshav, founded in 1950 by Jewish Yemenite immigrants. When we got off the scenic route, we reached the access road to Givat Yearim (4). There, we also found a pavilion with some benches and a drinking water faucet.

We filled water, passed the access road, and continued straight on a dirt path. We passed through a charming plantation with apple trees and exited through a small opening in a gate.  About 730 meters from the access road, we reached the front entrance to Kibbutz Tzova (5).

Tzova, also called Palmach Tzova, was established in October 1948 by a group of Palmach veterans. Today, the kibbutz’s main income comes from its glass factory, which produces tempered, laminated, and bulletproof security glass. But they also get money from agriculture and the hotel that the kibbutz operates.

The small opening
3 – Map taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/
4 – Map taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/
5 – Map taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/
6 – Map taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/

Around Kibbutz Tzova:

We entered the kibbutz and passed by its silo tower, which had nice artwork on it. We continued straight on the first roundabout. After a few hundred meters, we reached the back exit of the kibbutz (6). At this point, there was a sign next to the gate barrier, talking about the Battle of Tzova.

The silo tower in Kibbutz Tsova

Before 1948, there was a Palestinian village here called Suba. It was located on top of the ruins of an ancient Crusader-era fortress called Belmont. The village overlooked the road leading to Jerusalem, and its residents often attacked Jewish convoys that made their way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. So, to ensure the safety of the convoys, the Palmach soldiers conquered Suba in the early stages of the 1948 Independence War. Most of the village’s residents fled before the forces even got here. Some of the residents have moved to nearby Ein Rafa, where they live today as Israeli citizens.

We continued about 430 meters to the base of Tel Tzova (7). This is where the Crusader-era fortress and the Palestinian village stood. If you have time, you can climb up to the top of the mound and explore the ruins.

Next to the road, we saw a row of letters, forming the words “the agriculture will win.” Israel is famous for its developed agriculture, but the truth is that local agriculture is in decline. More and more vegetables and fruits are imported into the country, which means we’re laying aside the locally grown ones. Today, it’s not so profitable being a farmer in Israel. And that’s sad because it seems we’ve lost our connection to the land. Instead of encouraging people to cultivate the land, we’re encouraging them to work in hi-tech. Let’s hope agriculture will win soon.

“The agriculture will win”
7 – Map taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/

From Tel Tzova to Ein Sattaf:

We continued about 450 meters on an asphalt route and then turned right with the green-marked trail (8). A short while later, we reached HaYovel Picnic Area. The map says there’s a drinking faucet there, but I couldn’t see one.

From there, we continued downwards through the forest for about 1 km until we reached a big roundabout on road 395 (9). Here, we went straight towards Sattaf. We left the road and arrived at a stunning picnic area overlooking the Jerusalem Hills. In the distance, we could see Ein Karem and Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital. “We’re almost done,” we said, “We’ve almost reached our target.” We stopped to eat some apples. Nearby, there was also a café on wheels. 

View of the Haddasah Ein Karem Hospital

Then, we started our way downwards toward the Sattaf. This place was also a Palestinian Village, which was abandoned during the 1948 Independence War. Today, many people come here to see the ancient agricultural techniques that were preserved. The agricultural terraces were first developed about 4,500 years ago. There are also two water springs, which are a highlight in the hot months.  

We continued about 570 meters on a green-marked route and then turned left (10), went down a set of stairs, and continued towards Ein Sattaf (11). This is one of the water springs in the park. We took off our shoes and socks and entered the narrow water tunnel. It’s a short tunnel, that leads to a small and shallow pool. Kids probably love it. I felt it was too dense, knocked my knees, and got some back pain. But at least I tried it. 

The spring. You can’t swim here. There’s a small tunnel nearby
8 – Map taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/

From Ein Sattaf to Ein Karem:

After drying our feet, we put back our socks and shoes. Then, we continued down a long-long set of stairs to the lower parking lot of Sattaf (12). From there, we turned left and walked on a green-marked route through a pleasant forest. At first, it was really stinky, but then the air felt cleaner. After about 1 km, we left the green-marked route and continued on the Israel National Trail only. In the distance, we could see the buildings of Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital.

Walking towards Ein Karem

About 2.6 km from the lower parking lot, we reached a small bridge over the Sorek River (13). This river is one of the largest and most important drainage basins in the Judean Hills. In the Bible, it is mentioned as the border between the Philistines and the Israelite Tribe of Dan. Some believe that “sorek” means “special vine,” referring to the grapes grown in the area.

We crossed the bridge and continued another 670 meters to a roundabout connecting road 386 with road 395 (14). At the roundabout, we turned left and continued on a dirt path parallel to the road.

After about 750 meters, we started entering the neighborhood of Ein Karem. I have never entered the neighborhood from this side, so it was even more exciting. The houses were above us, and we climbed towards them. They surrounded us from all sides. When we reached the paved street of Sorek, we turned right, and started climbing up a long set of stairs. At the end of the climb, we found out that they are called the Gan Eden Staircase (Heaven Staircase).

The staircase is connected to the Jewish Yemenite immigrants, who were brought here in the early years of the state. The authorities promised them a house in Jerusalem, but took them here, to an abandoned Arab village at the outskirts of Jerusalem. At first, they refused to leave the buses. But then, one of the Yemenites went off the bus, stood next to the staircase, and said: “It’s not so bad. We are still close to Jerusalem. Look, this is the Heaven Staircase leading to Jerusalem.” Ever since, those stairs are called the Heaven Staircase.

I could understand the connection between heaven and those stairs. When we reached the top, I was so excited. We did it. We reached Jerusalem after a month on the trail! It wasn’t an easy task, but we made it.

9 – Map taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/
10 – Map taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/

In Ein Karem:

Ein Karem is one of the most charming neighborhoods in Jerusalem, but it wasn’t always part of Jerusalem. Back in ancient days, it was a separate village in the Jerusalem Hills. According to Christian tradition, it is where John the Baptist was born. (Read more about John the Baptist in Ein Karem). Before 1948, it was a Palestinian village. Now, it’s a neighborhood full of artisans and craftsmen who are influenced by its beauty.

We continued straight from the stairs and walked a short while to a coffee house and confectionery on the main road of Ein Karem (15). There, we stopped to drink coffee and summarize our hike. It was a hike full of natural beauty and interesting history, but also full of mental and physical challenges. There were ups and downs, but we were able to stick together as a group, and overall, we had amazing fun!

We split up. Until next time.

Leaving the trail:

If you want to leave the trail after this segment – You can take bus number 28 from Ein Kerem/ HaMa’ayan Station to Mount Herzl Light-Rail Station. From there, you can take the light-rail to the central station and take a relevant bus or train from there. The whole ride to the central station shouldn’t take more than half an hour. It’s best to check the best route for you by using Moovit or Google Maps. 

Read more:

Get ready for the trail by reading my post – The Israel National Trail: Ultimate Preparation Guide.

And check out previous segments of the Israel National Trail.

Looking for a guide on the Israel National Trail?

Contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com or read more here

Save this pin for later!


Hiked the trail in November 2020.

If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share and a comment (: Also, feel free to update about trail changes!

If you need any help with planning this hike, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com. I also offer guided hiking tours on several segments of the Israel National Trail.

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And plan a great trip to Israel using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Free things to do Hiking in Israel Israel National Trail

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Mahal Memorial to Beit Meir

After a rainy night at Mahal Memorial, we woke up to a rainy morning. We pondered if we could hike that day because the forecast said the rain should stop a bit later. But maybe it would be too muddy and slippery? We also have a rather serious ascent ahead. In the end, we decided that we’ll hike only a short while to Beit Meir, about 5.6 km from Mahal Memorial.

The segment from Mahal Memorial to Beit Meir is short and beautiful. We enjoyed some stunning views of the surrounding Jerusalem hills and stopped by strategic points used by our forces in the 1948 Independence War. We arrived at Beit Meir early and got to work a bit in our trail angel’s farm.

Trail length: About 5.6 km. You can also hike it from the other direction.

Trail duration: About 2 hours, depending on your pace.

Difficulty level: Moderate.  

Best season: Fall (October-November) and Spring (February-April).

Water along the way: There is a drinking water tap at Mahal Memorial, the starting point. You can also get water at Beit Meir.

Stay options at the end of the trail: We stayed at a Trail Angel’s house in Beit Meir. You can search for trail angels here. If you prefer camping, there’s a small camping area near the access road to Beit Meir, called HaMasreq.

Continue to the next segment: From Beit Meir to Ein Karem.

Table of contents:

Safety instructions and general notes

How to get to the head of the trail?

The trail from Mahal Memorial to Beit Meir

Leaving the trail

Read more

Safety instructions and general notes:

· The hike is under your responsibility, so please be careful.

· Make sure you hike with good hiking shoes, have at least 3 liters of water, and wear a hat. Pack food and snacks for the two-hour hike. Also, make sure to bring a garbage bag as well and take your garbage with you, including toilet paper.

· Don’t go on the hike when it is too hot (over 30 degrees Celsius) because it’s not enjoyable and can end with heatstroke. We hiked after rainfall and the trail was a bit slippery here and there, so be careful!

· Pay attention to sunset hours (in Summer around 6-7 PM, in Winter around 4-5 PM). Make sure to start hiking early, so you will get to the end of the trail from sunset. 

· The phone signal is good throughout most of the trail.

· Before you begin the hike, make sure you have a good trail map. The trail isn’t always well marked, so it’s good to have a map. You can also use a navigation app such as the Israel Hiking Map. With GPS, you can also see where you are exactly. Though, remember that wherever you do see a trail mark – this trail mark is superior to what’s shown on your map. You can also download the trail map in English (created by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel). For this segment, you will need to download this map. The map is extremely basic but gives you a general sense of the trail.

· The trail is marked with the Israel National Trail colors, orange-blue-white.

· If you need any further help planning your trail, I recommend posting on the Israel National Trail forum on Tapatalk. Of course, you can also talk to me through lior@backpackisrael.com.

To reach the trailhead, you will need to get to Mesilat Zion Junction. From there, take a taxi or walk 3.4 km to the Mahal Memorial. If you are coming from Tel Aviv, bus line 412 leaves from the Savidor Center Railway Station. From Jerusalem, bus line 417 leaves from the ICC, near the Central Station. Line 415 leaves from Central Station Jerusalem. There are also other options, so it’s best to use a navigation app like Google Maps or Moovit to find the best route for you.

The hike from Mahal Memorial to Beit Meir:

From Mahal Memorial to Post 21:

So, we woke up at the Mahal Memorial (1) and waited for the rain to stop. It stopped around 10 AM, and then we started the hike. We hiked on a flat, red-marked route for a bit. Then, we started climbing the ascent on a green-marked trail. Water was still flowing down the slope between the rocks. At first, there were small rocks. As we climbed further, they became bigger and bigger. The climb itself was a bit steep but overall moderate. The views that surrounded us were definitely worth it! In the distance, we could see our target – the religious moshav of Beit Meir.

Climbing on the green-marked route
Beit Meir in the distance

After about 1.8 km, we reached a trail fork with a blue-marked trail (2). We turned left and continued climbing on the green-marked route, which follows the Israel National Trail marks.

About 420 meters afterward, we reached Post 21 (3). This point is connected to the 1948 Independence War. Actually, the mountain ridge which we were hiking on is dubbed “the Convoys Ridge.” It was a strategic ridge to the south of the road that led to Jerusalem, road number 1. The Jewish forces used it to protect the convoys which made their way to Jerusalem. Many of our soldiers died while trying to grasp the strategic points along the ridge, amongst them Post 21.

Our forces captured Post 21 on May 10, 1948. A day afterward, hundreds of Arabs from the neighboring village, Bayt Mahsir, came to attack the place. We were able to repel them and keep hold of this point, with six of our soldiers dead.

Map 1 – Taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/

From Post 21 to Post 16:

We continued for another 1.1 km and reached a lovely viewpoint over road number 1 (4). This point was also a strategic post on the ridge. Our soldiers probably stood here and kept an eye on the route to Jerusalem. There’s a big tree here, which means a lot of shade. There’s also a wooden bench, so we took advantage of the place and stopped to rest. It’s a good place for a coffee break.

The shaded viewpoint over road number 1
The view itself. Imagine how it looked in 1948

After about 450 meters, we reached another post, this time Post 16 (5). Here, there’s a memorial for the Palmach forces. The Palmach was the leading Jewish fighting force before the establishment of the State of Israel. It was established with the help of the British. They wanted to train the Jewish people so that they could help them during World War II. In the end, the Nazis didn’t get to the Land of Israel, but we gained a trained fighting force. During the Independence War, which began in November 1947 as a civil war, the Palmach were recruited. Later, in May 1948, when we established the IDF, they were integrated into the different units.

The Palmach memorial consists of three stone columns, each depicting a different period in the Palmach. The first column is dedicated to the operations against the Nazi forces, which the Palmach performed outside of the Land of Israel. It is also dedicated to the operations against the British authorities between 1946 to 1947. The second column is dedicated to the first part of the Independence War, until May 1948. The third is dedicated to the rest of the war, until 1949. On each column, you can see the number of fallen Palmach soldiers.

The Palmach Memorial
Map 2 – Taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/

From Post 16 to Beit Meir:

From Post 16, the trail begins a slight decline. We continued on the decline for about 850 meters and then turned left onto a red-marked route. After a short while, we were on road 3955, the access road to Beit Meir. Right next to the road, there’s a camping site called HaMasreq (6).

More views on the way to Beit Meir

We left the Israel National Trail and turned right onto the access road to Beit Meir (7). The religious moshav was established in 1950 on the ruins of the Arab village, Bayt Mahsir. It is called after Meir Bar-Ilan, an Orthodox Rabbi who was one of the leading religious Zionist leaders.

When we entered the moshav, a large van stopped by us. A young man jumped out and asked: “Are you hungry?” We were used to people who wanted to feed us, but this was surprising. He said that he has a catering company. He prepared some food packages, but they weren’t eaten. “It’s a shame to throw away,” he said, “So please take some.” And he gave us the food packages, which we later ate for lunch.

Our trail angel was a religious man with a farm, so we spent the afternoon helping him with the farm errands. We cleaned the livestock stalls, gathered freshly laid eggs, and chopped an enormous pile of wood logs. The jobs he gave us were a bit thick, but we had a roof over our head and were protected from the rain outdoors, so we couldn’t really complain.

Map 3 – Taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/

Leaving the trail:

If you want to leave the trail after this segment – You can take bus number 186 that leaves from Beit Meir to Jerusalem. To get to Tel Aviv, you can change to the train in Jerusalem or change to another bus on the way. To get to Haifa, take bus 186 to Jerusalem and then switch to bus number 960 to Haifa. It’s best to check the best route for you by using Moovit or Google Maps. 

Read more:

Get ready for the trail by reading my post – The Israel National Trail: Ultimate Preparation Guide.

And check out previous segments of the Israel National Trail.

Looking for a guide on the Israel National Trail?

Contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com or read more here

Pin this post for later!


Hiked the trail in November 2020.

If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share and a comment (: Also, feel free to update about trail changes!

If you need any help with planning this hike, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com. I also offer guided hiking tours on several segments of the Israel National Trail.

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And plan a great trip to Israel using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Free things to do Hiking in Israel Israel National Trail

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Moshe Shaiyah Lookout to Mahal Memorial 

We woke up to a new morning at Moshe Shaiyah Lookout. This day, we planned to get to Mahal Memorial as early as possible. We were getting nearer to Jerusalem, and it was still the weekend. So, we thought it could be an excellent opportunity to call some of our families and arrange a BBQ meet-up.

The segment from Moshe Shaiyah Lookout to Mahal Memorial is easy and fascinating. On the way, we passed through Latrun and got a short glimpse of the monastery. Then, we walked through beautiful orchards and forests. And near the end, we also got to walk a bit on Burma Road, a makeshift bypass road built during the 1948 Siege of Jerusalem.

Trail length: About 15.5 km. You can also hike it from the other direction.

Trail duration: About 6 hours, depending on your pace.

Difficulty level: Easy to moderate.  

Best season: Fall (October-November) and Spring (February-April).

Water along the way: There is a drinking water tap at Moshe Shaiyah Lookout. Then, there are water taps at Latrun (about 5.3 km from the start). Next, you can fill water at the Latrun Monastery (about 6.6 km from the start). There is also a water cooler at the spiritual center in Neve Shalom. It’s the building with the dome (about 9 km from the start). To reach it, you will need to make a short diverge from the trail. There are drinking water taps at the Mahal Memorial, the endpoint.

Stay options at the end of the trail: We camped near the Mahal Memorial. There are also trail angels in the area.

Continue to the next segment – From Mahal Memorial to Beit Meir.

Table of contents:

Safety instructions and general notes

How to get to the head of the trail?

The hike from Moshe Shaiyah Lookout to Mahal Memorial

From Moshe Shaiyah Lookout to Latrun

The memorials of Latrun

An interesting encounter at the gas station

At the Latrun Trappist Monastery

From the monastery to Neve Shalom

From Neve Shalom to Burma Road

From Burma Road to Mahal Memorial

At the Mahal Memorial

Leaving the trail

Read more

Safety instructions and general notes:

· The hike is under your responsibility, so please be careful.

· Make sure you hike with good hiking shoes, have at least 3 liters of water, and wear a hat. Pack food and snacks for the whole day, BUT make sure to bring a garbage bag as well and take your garbage with you, including toilet papers.

· Don’t go on the hike when it is too hot (over 30 degrees Celsius), because it’s not enjoyable and can end with a heatstroke. Also, it’s not recommended to hike after rainfall, as the trail could be muddy and slippery.

· Pay attention to sunset hours (in Summer around 6-7 PM, in Winter around 4-5 PM). Try to begin the hike before 6 AM so you will have time to rest a bit during the hot hours of the afternoon and still get it to the end of the trail. 

· The phone signal is good throughout most of the trail.

· Before you begin the hike, make sure you have a good trail map. The trail isn’t always well marked, so it’s good to have a map. You can also use a navigation app such as the Israel Hiking Map. With GPS, you can also see where you are exactly. Though, remember that wherever you do see a trail mark – this trail mark is superior to what’s shown on your map. You can also download the trail map in English (created by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel). For this segment, you will need to download this map. The map is extremely basic but give you a general sense of the trail.

· The trail is marked with the Israel National Trail colors, orange-blue-white.

· If you need any further help with planning your trail, I recommend posting on the Israel National Trail forum on Tapatalk. Of course, you can also talk to me through lior@backpackisrael.com.

To reach the trailhead, you will need to get to Modi’in and take bus 18 from there to “Takhanat Kemach” station in Sha’alvim. From there, you need to walk about 1.7 km to Moshe Shaiyah Lookout, the start point. There are also other options, so it’s best to use a navigation app like Google Maps or Moovit to find the best route for you.

The hike from Moshe Shaiyah Lookout to Mahal Memorial:

From Moshe Shaiyah Lookout to Latrun:

We began our hike from Moshe Shaiyah Lookout (1) and walked on a comfortable route for about 2 km. To our left, we could see the houses of the religious kibbutz, Sha’alvim. Then, we arrived at an underpass beneath the Israeli railway (2). We continued another 370 meters or so and passed beneath road number 1 (3). This road is one of the leading transportation routes in Israel, connecting Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It follows an ancient path that linked Jaffa to Jerusalem hundreds of years ago.

Crossing the railway

After crossing underneath the road, we turned left and continued parallel to the road for about 1.5 km. Then, the trail started turning right towards Latrun. The path was easy and passed by beautiful orchards and agricultural fields. Then, after about 970 meters, we started the ascent to Latrun.

We climbed through the woods and the high grass. On the way, we passed by some outdoor fitness equipment. About 320 meters from the start of the climb, we reached a memorial to the 188th “Barak” (Lightning) Armored Brigade (4). It is one of many memorials scattered over Latrun, part of the Armored Corps Formations Park. The plan is to have 52 memorials in the park.

Climbing through the woods
The memorial to the “Barak” Armored Brigade

The memorials of Latrun:

We passed the memorial and turned right onto a paved route. A short while later, we saw another memorial to our right (5). It was for the 217th “Sus Doher” (Galloping Horse) Armored Brigade. The symbol of the brigade, a galloping horse, appeared on the monument stone.

The “Galloping Horse” memorial

We continued another 180 meters or so and arrived at a huge parking lot in front of Yad La-Shiryon (6). It is officially known as the Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum at Latrun. If you have time, it’s worth a visit! The prices are reasonable. In the outer courtyard, you’ll find one of the largest collections of tanks and armored vehicles in the world. You can also enter the main building, a Mandate-era Tegart fortress, and visit the memorial to the fallen soldiers of the Israeli armored corps. Over 5,000 fallen soldiers are commemorated at this site.

Latrun was the site of one of the fiercest fights in the 1948 Independence War. That’s why the memorials and museum are located here. Latrun was a strategic point on the route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Jordanian Arab Legion captured this point in May 1948. The Israeli forces tried to capture Latrun five times but were unsuccessful. 168 Israeli soldiers were killed, and Latrun remained under Jordanian control until the 1967 Six-Day War.

The Jordanians threatened the convoys that made their way between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. So, to continue the supplement of essential supplies to the Jewish population of Jerusalem, we had to find a new road. This is when we started using the Burma Road, a makeshift bypass road to Jerusalem.

An interesting encounter at the gas station:

From the entrance to Yad La-Shiryon, we left the trail and went to the nearby gas station (7). There’s a convenience store over there, with picnic tables and shade. We thought it could be a great place for breakfast.

Sapir and I sat down next to one of the tables, and the rest went to make coffee somewhere. Then, a guy with white braided hair asked if he could sit with us at the table. “I’m waiting for a friend,” he told us. We welcomed him to our table and even offered him waffles.

Then, he asked us a lot of questions. Where were we from, how was the Israel National Trail, and what are our professions. He also told us a bit about himself, that he was a gardener and loved to travel. All this talking isn’t unusual because people in Israel like to talk, especially with hikers on the Israel National Trail. But there was some kind of charm around him.

A few minutes later, the whole group came back, and he started talking to them, too. Nitai said that he knows him from somewhere, and then he said that he appeared in “One Out of a Million” (in Hebrew: “אחד למיליון”).

“Really?” Nitai was excited.

I didn’t know at the time about the TV show. Only later, when I came back home and accidentally stumbled upon “One Out of a Million,” I understood why Nitai seemed so excited. It’s a documentary show that showcases people who have experienced miracles. In this case, the man we met was Lior, an adopted man who miraculously met his biological brother on the street. They became best friends and only after many years discovered they were brothers.

At the Latrun Trappist Monastery:

We said farewell to Lior at the gas station and linked back to the Israel National Trail. It goes down through a set of parking lots and then arrives, after about 350 meters, at road number 424 (8). We crossed according to the traffic lights and continued about 300 meters alongside the road. Then, we turned left and arrived after a short while at the Latrun Trappist Monastery (9). The monks who live here don’t talk a lot, which is why we call them “the silent monks.”

The monastery is named after the ancient Crusader-era fortress situated atop the hill. It was called “Le Toron des Chevaliers”, which means “the Tower of the Knights.” “Le Toron” turned into “Latrun.” Following this mistake, a Christian tradition was born, claiming that the Good Thief (“Boni latronis” in Latin) was born here.

In the 1870s, a road inn was built here, on the route between Jaffa and Jerusalem. Those days, the journey between the two cities took about two days. The inn was sold in 1887 to a Trappist monk who established the monastery. Why here? Because it’s close to Emmaus Nicopolis, believed to be the place where Jesus appeared after his death and resurrection. During World War I, the monastery turned into an Ottoman military camp. Only in 1919, the monks came back to the place and expanded it.

We left the trail to take a deeper look at the monastery. Because of the weekend, there were stalls selling stuff outside the building. When we asked to look inside, the monk in charge said that they were closed because of coronavirus.

The Trappist Monastery from a distance
A short glimpse inside….

From the monastery to Neve Shalom:

We exited the monastery and continued on the trail. In the garden next to the trail stands a high monument, that looks like an Indian totem (10). Three faces appear on the monument – the faces of Rashi, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Saladin. Those all come from different religions, but according to the abbot of the monastery, all of them represent tolerance.

From there, the trail continues uphill towards Le Toron des Chevaliers, the Crusader-era fortress. We foolishly cut through the olive grove and didn’t climb up to the remains of the fortress. But if you do want to reach it, it’s only a short 400 meters climb from the monastery.

We cut through the olive grove and reconnected to the Israel National Trail, where it overlaps a red-marked trail. Now, we descended to a beautiful vineyard. In the distance, on the hill, we could see the houses of Neve Shalom. In translation to English, the name of the village means “an Oasis of Peace.” It was founded as a cooperative village by Jews and Arabs, who wanted to prove that the two people can live peacefully together.

Neve Shalom in the distance
The trail leading to Neve Shalom

We went for about 600 meters and then crossed over the dry wadi of Nahal Nahshon (11), which flows only in winter and spring. Then, we continued upwards for about 1 km until we reached the outskirts of Neve Shalom. From here, we could see the dome of their spiritual center.   

From Neve Shalom to Burma Road:

We continued the ascent for about 210 meters and then turned left onto a black-marked trail (12). Some people, who sat next to the picnic tables at the turn, asked us if we want Coca Cola. When we said “no,” they asked if we want waffles. We didn’t want the waffles because we had enough of them, but Nitai went up to them anyway and took some. Just to be polite.

We accidentally took a wrong turn right and downwards. But soon enough, we were able to get back to the black-marked trail. The trail continues straight for about 890 meters. Then, it arrives at a shaded picnic area and a trail junction. We rested for a while and then took the right turn onto a green-marked trial (13).

We continued down the green-marked trail for about 730 meters and then reached the junction of Peru Forest (14). Here, we turned right and continued on the green-marked trail. After about 420 meters, we arrived at another trail junction. This time, we turned left onto a red-marked trail. It led us to the serpentine descend along the historical Burma Road.

Peru Forest

There are informative signs and reddish reliefs of the convoys that made their way down this road. Burma Road was the makeshift bypass road used by the Jewish convoys to bypass the Jordanian post at Latrun and reach Jerusalem. It was active for only six months, starting June 1948. The Israel National Trail goes on the most challenging part of the Burma Road, where the engineers had to deal with a very steep decline.

The convoy going down the Burma Road

From Burma Road to Mahal Memorial:

After about 440 meters, we arrived at the bottom of the decline. There, we saw a rusty pipeline, which was part of Hashiloach Pipeline. They laid the pipeline within only 30 days! Like the Burma Road, it also bypassed the Jordanian post at Latrun. It rejoined the mandatory-era line at Shaar Hagai. 

The rusty pipeline

We continued left on the red-marked trail (15). It still follows the Burma Road, but now it was much milder. There were no major ascents or declines. Though, there’s almost no shade. We went on the red-marked trail for about 1.2 km, passing dry vineyards on the way. Then, we turned left onto a trail that was marked as the Israel National Trail only. After 770 meters, it returns to the red-marked trail.

Then, we started walking into the boundaries of Eshtaol Forest. Like many forests in Israel, this one was planted by the KKL in the 1950s and consists mainly of Aleppo pine. There’s supposed to be a water spring in the area called Ein Mesilla, but we didn’t notice it. After about 1.3 km, we reached a short tunnel underneath road number 38 (16).

To the right, there’s a gas station with a convenience store, which we visited later. We crossed through the tunnel and then continued with the road left to Mahal Memorial (17).

Crossing to Mahal Memorial

At the Mahal Memorial:

Mahal is an acronym of “Mitnadvei Hetz LaArtez,” which means “volunteers from abroad.” They came from abroad to fight alongside the Israeli forces during the 1948 Independence War. There were about 4,000 volunteers, most of them Jews but some of them non-Jews, too. The memorial is made of three letters that make up the Hebrew acronym “Mahal.” There are also boards explaining the group and showing the names of those who fell during the war.

Around the memorial, there’s a vast picnic area. When we arrived, it was full of people. Ayelet’s and Nitai’s families were there, too. They brought meat and salads, and we had a great picnic. A girl who we met at the beginning of the trail appeared near the end and joined us for the night. She said that her group had kicked her out.

It was supposed to rain that night, so we also asked the families to bring some coverage against rain. At first, we tried to tie them to some trees and create a shelter from the rain. But it wasn’t too successful. So, we chose Plan B – to sleep under the picnic tables. We placed the coverages on top of the picnic tables and affixed them with rocks on the ground.

It really rained that night. There were even thunders. And most of us stayed quite dry.

The Mahal Memorial. You can’t see all the letters, but they are there!
The shelter we built for the night

Leaving the trail:

If you want to leave the trail after this segment – You will need to walk about 3.5 km to Mesilat Zion Junction and take bus 417 or 415 from there to Jerusalem. If you want to go directly to Tel Aviv, you can take bus 412 from Mesilat Zion Junction. It’s best to check the best route for you by using Moovit or Google Maps. To get to Mesilat Zion Junction quicker, you can order a taxi.

Read more:

Get ready for the trail by reading my post – The Israel National Trail: Ultimate Preparation Guide.

And check out previous segments of the Israel National Trail.

Looking for a guide on the Israel National Trail?

Contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com or read more here

Pin this post for later!


Hiked the trail in November 2020.

If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share and a comment (: Also, feel free to update about trail changes!

If you need any help with planning this hike, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com. I also offer guided hiking tours on several segments of the Israel National Trail.

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And plan a great trip to Israel using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Free things to do Hiking in Israel Israel National Trail

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Shoham to Moshe Shaiyah Lookout

After a cozy night at Shoham, we woke up and traced our tracks back to the Israel National Trail. Then, we started making our way to the next destination – the Moshe Shaiyah Lookout near kibbutz Sha’alvim.

The segment from Shoham to Moshe Shaiyah Lookout is a pleasant one. It passes through the Ben Shemen Forest and offers some beautiful viewpoints along the way. Because we hiked on Friday, the forest was full of families, hikers, and bikers, and there were also food stalls near the Modi’in Lookout watchtower.

Trail length: About 18 km. You can also hike from the other direction. If you’re coming from Shoam, it’s an additional 2 km to the start.

Trail duration: About 10 hours, depending on your pace.

Difficulty level: Easy.

Best season: Fall (October-November) and Spring (February-April).

Water along the way: If you have stayed in Shoham, you can fill water at your host’s place. If not, the nearest drinking tap is at Modi’in Lookout, near the watchtower (about 6.5 km from the start). Then, there’s a drinking tap at the Neve Yosef picnic area (about 17.5 km from the start). There’s also water at the endpoint, at Moshe Shaiyah Lookout.

Stay options at the end of the trail: We camped at the Moshe Shaiyah Lookout. There’s a space with grass at the top of the small mound. It is also possible to camp at the Neve Yosef picnic area, located about 500 meters back.  

Continue to the next segment – From Moshe Shaiyah Lookout to Mahal Memorial.

Table of contents:

Safety instructions and general notes

How to get to the head of the trail?

The trail from Shoham to Moshe Shaiyah Lookout

Leaving the trail

Read more

Safety instructions and general notes:

· The hike is under your responsibility, so please be careful.

· Make sure you hike with good hiking shoes, have at least 3 liters of water (and 5 on hot days), and wear a hat. Pack food and snacks for the whole day, BUT make sure to bring a garbage bag as well and take your garbage with you, including toilet papers.

· Don’t go on the hike when it is too hot (over 30 degrees Celsius), because it’s not enjoyable and can end with heatstroke. Also, after rainfall, parts of this segment could be muddy.

· Pay attention to sunset hours (in Summer around 6-7 PM, in Winter around 4-5 PM). Try to begin the hike before 8 AM so you will have time to rest a bit during the hot hours of the afternoon and still get it to the end of the trail. 

· The phone signal is good throughout the trail.

· Before you begin the hike, make sure you have a good trail map. The trail isn’t always well marked, so it’s good to have a map. You can also use a navigation app such as the Israel Hiking Map. With GPS, you can also see where you are exactly. Though, remember that wherever you do see a trail mark – this trail mark is superior to what’s shown on your map. You can also download the trail map in English (created by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel). For this segment, you will need to download this map and this map. The maps are extremely basic but give you a general sense of the trail.

· The trail is marked with the Israel National Trail colors, orange-blue-white.

· If you need any further help with planning your trail, I recommend posting on the Israel National Trail forum on Tapatalk. Of course, you can also talk to me through lior@backpackisrael.com.

This segment starts near Shoham. If you’re coming in a car, you can park in Shoham and walk about 2 km to the start of the segment. Pass through the tunnel underneath road number 444. Then, turn right and continue for about 500 meters and turn left. Continue for about 800 meters until you reach the Israel National Trail.  

By public transportation:

It is best to take a bus to Shoham. From Tel Aviv, you can catch bus number 500 or 506 from Ha’Hagana Train Station. From other places, you will need to use at least two buses to reach Shoham. It’s best to use Moovit or Google Maps to find the best route for you.

The trail from Shoham to Moshe Shaiyah Lookout:

Taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/

From the start to Tel Hadid:

We arrived at the point where we left the other day (1). Then, we went on an easy trail for about 660 meters and reached an underpass beneath road number 6 (2). After crossing it, we started climbing upwards, above the road. The climb is a bit steep but short, so it wasn’t too bad.

Walking to the underpass beneath road 6

At the end of the climb, the trail becomes quite plain with rock surfaces here and there. About 2.2 km from the underpass, we reached another point of contact with road number 6 (3). Though, this time we pass underneath it. We turned left and continued parallel to the road. Then, we turned right and continued on the Israel National Trail for about 340 meters until we reached a charming olive grove (4). There, we rested, made coffee, and ate some waffles. 

The olive grove where we rested

We continued westward on the trail, which at this point merges with a blue-marked trail. Many bikers were biking on the singles. After about 400 meters, we reached the lookout at Tel Hadid (5). The site was excavated when construction started on road number 6. Archeologists found very ancient findings but assume that the town was at its peak during the 7-8th century BCE. Until 1948, an Arab village by the name of Haditha existed here, preserving the name of Hadid.

The lookout is incredible. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Tel Aviv. The lookout was built in memory of Roi, who lived in nearby Beit Nehemia.

Tel Hadid lookout

From Tel Hadid to Modi’in Lookout:

From the top of Tel Hadid, we began a gradual and easy descend. We continued for about 1.9 km. Then, we stumbled upon a group of young people who were hearing loud music and picking up garbage. They seemed like a large and organized group. “Are you doing this as part of an organization?” we asked one of them.

“Yes,” he replied, “We’re part of Bahim La’Arim. It’s a Facebook group. If someone sees somewhere filthy, they can call for a group clean-up, and whoever is free can come and help.” Bahim La’Arim, by the way, means both “coming to the mountains” and “coming to pick up.”

We were happy to hear that someone cared about cleaning up nature. They had a lot of bags full of garbage. We’re a small country, and many people have no awareness of preserving the environment. So, there’s a lot of garbage in natural places, on hiking trails, and in picnic areas.

The Bahim La’Arim

“You’re doing great work!” we told them and continued on our way.

We passed by a parking lot, and 460 meters afterward reached an underpass beneath road 443 (6). After 360 meters, we arrived at a place with lots of food stalls, families, and bikers. It was a kind of happening that probably happens every Friday at the Modi’in Lookout (7). This place is already Ben Shemen Forest, one of the largest forests in Israel. We sat next to one of the picnic tables and then took turns in checking out the different stalls. I bought natural squeezed apple juice, but the others bought actual food like kanafeh.

Before leaving the place, we went up to the watchtower to fill water. The water tap is next to the wall that encircles the tower, beneath a large carob tree. It was scary to use it because there were bees all around it, but we managed. 

From Modi’in Lookout to Moshe Shaiyah Lookout:

There’s not a lot to say about the next 5.6 km. We just followed the trail marks. The trail is easy and shaded at the beginning but less at the end. We passed by picnic areas, saw many bikers, and had to dodge some ATVs on the way.

Through the forest

Then, we reached Hurbat Ragav (8). There’s a beautiful 360 degrees viewpoint over there. We could see the city of Modi’in as well as the Coastal Plain.

From there, we continued downwards on the Israel National Trail. A while later, we reached a sign on a tree that said: “Shalom hikers, Due to construction works at Aneva Junction, we have marked a 2-km long bypass for the Israel National Trail. Go after the trail marks. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.” So, we turned onto the bypass. After a short while, we reached a roundabout. We crossed it and continued for about 1.6 km until the end of the bypass (9). It ends at a cattle bridge.

The sign on the tree

We continued about 660 meters and reached a commercial area of Modi’in (10). Instead of going inside the complex, we turned right and walked on a dirt route that overlaps a green-marked trail. We continued on the green-marked route for about 1.3 km until we reached the access road to Sha’alvim (11). Here, we turned left and went on the Israel National Trail, parallel to the road. After about 330 meters, we turned right, crossed the road, and continued on the marked trail.

The commercial area from afar

We hiked another 500 meters and then reached Neve Yosef picnic area (12). We originally planned to sleep there, but there were a bunch of teenagers. Because we were afraid that this place would be noisy, we continued another 370 meters to Moshe Shaiyah Lookout (13).

At the Moshe Shaiyah Lookout:

The Moshe Shaiyah Lookout stands on a small mound, surrounded by grass and palm trees. It was built in memory of Moshe Shaiyah, a Jewish construction worker who fell to his death from a scaffold in his early 20s. 

We spent long minutes trying to understand where we’ll put our sleeping bags. At first, we thought to place them on the grass below the lookout, but the grass was too high and itchy. Then, we thought to place them next to the palm trees, but they seemed too close to the dirt roads. We didn’t want an ATV or motorcycle running over us at night.

It started getting dark, Ayelet lost her glasses, and we were all frustrated. In the end, we decided to camp at the top of the mound. There’s a small open space beyond the picnic tables.

The lookout is beautiful and well maintained. There’s a swing chair towards the view, a place for a bonfire, and several picnic tables. There’s also a drinking water tap, which was one of the best ones I’ve seen on the trail. The problem is that all this beauty attracts people who want to hang out, especially on weekends. And since it was the weekend, we had two groups of teenagers that came to make a bonfire, eat, and talk over the night. Ayelet and Nitai left to the palm trees in the middle of the night. The rest of us slept so-so.

That’s all for now. I wish you a fantastic hike on the Israel National Trail!

The Moshe Shayiah Lookout

Leaving the trail:

If you want to leave the trail after this segment – Don’t walk to Moshe Shaiyah Lookout. Stop on the way, at the commercial area of Modi’in (number 10). From there, you can catch bus 56 to the center of Modi’in. Then, take a bus relevant to you. It’s best to check the best route for you by using Moovit or Google Maps. If you need to get to Tel Aviv or Haifa, you can take bus 56 to the Modi’in train station and get on a train. 

Read more:

Get ready for the trail by reading my post – The Israel National Trail: Ultimate Preparation Guide.

And check out previous segments of the Israel National Trail.

Looking for a guide on the Israel National Trail?

Contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com or read more here

Pin this post for later!


Hiked the trail in November 2020.

If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share and a comment (:

If you need any help with planning this hike, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com. I also offer guided hiking tours on several segments of the Israel National Trail.

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And plan a great trip to Israel using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Free things to do Hiking in Israel Israel National Trail

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Tel Afek to Shoham

After sleeping next to the railway at Tel Afek, we woke up to another day on the Israel National Trail. We planned to hike to Shoham and stay at a relative’s house. It isn’t exactly on the trail, but it’s a small detour away.

The segment from Tel Afek to Shoham is quite boring. One interesting spot is an ancient mausoleum. The other is an impressive memorial for the fallen soldiers of an Israeli armored corps brigade. But the highlight of this segment was the ice cream factory store in Shoham Industrial Park. They sell ice cream at ridiculously cheap prices! 

Trail length: About 20 km. You can also hike it from the other direction. If you want to go to Shoam, it’s an additional 2 km back and forth. 

Trail duration: About 10 hours, depending on your pace. 

Difficulty level: Easy to moderate. 

Best season: Fall (October-November), Winter (December-January), and Spring (February-April). 

Water along the way: There is a drinking tap at the Yarkon National Park Overnight Campground, at the beginning of the segment. Next, there’s a water tap at the “Water Corner” (about 4.2 km from the start). You can also fill water at the ice cream store in the Shoham Industrial Park (about 16.2 km from the start). 

Stay options at the end of the trail: There are many trail angels in Shoham. Check the list here.

Continue to the next segment – From Shoham to Moshe Shaiyah Lookout.

Table of contents:

Safety instructions and general notes

How to get to the head of the trail?

The trail from Tel Afek to Shoham

Safety instructions and general notes:

· The hike is under your responsibility, so please be careful.

· Make sure you hike with good hiking shoes, have at least 3 liters of water (and 5 on hot days), and wear a hat. Pack food and snacks for the whole day, BUT make sure to bring a garbage bag as well and take your garbage with you, including toilet papers.

· Don’t go on the hike when it is too hot (over 30 degrees Celsius), because it’s not enjoyable and can end with heatstroke. There are many parts without shade on this segment. Also, after rainfall, parts of this segment could be muddy.

· Pay attention to sunset hours (in Summer around 6-7 PM, in Winter around 4-5 PM). Try to begin the hike before 8 AM so you will have time to rest a bit during the hot hours of the afternoon and still get it to the end of the trail. 

· The phone signal is good throughout the trail.

· Before you begin the hike, make sure you have a good trail map. The trail isn’t always well marked, so it’s good to have a map. You can also use a navigation app such as the Israel Hiking Map. With GPS, you can also see where you are exactly. Though, remember that wherever you do see a trail mark – this trail mark is superior to what’s shown on your map. You can also download the trail map in English (created by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel). For this segment, you will need to download this map. The maps are extremely basic but give you a general sense of the trail.

· The trail is marked with the Israel National Trail colors, orange-blue-white.

· If you need any further help with planning your trail, I recommend posting on the Israel National Trail forum on Tapatalk. Of course, you can also talk to me through lior@backpackisrael.com.

This segment starts in Yarkon National Park Overnight Campground. It’s possible to reach the spot by car, but there’s no organized parking lot there. From road number 486, you will need to turn onto the road that merges with the Israel National Trail. It will take you to the campground.

By public transportation:

In any case, you will need to reach Afek Junction (in Hebrew: צומת אפק). The trail crosses the junction. So you can skip the first 1.5 km of the segment and join it there. No matter where you come from, you’ll need to change buses in the middle. It’s best to use Moovit or Google Maps to find the best route for you.

The trail from Tel Afek to Shoham:

From Tel Afek to road number 6:

The first part was quite uninteresting. We woke up early and left Yarkon National Park Overnight Campground (1). We walked a while parallel to the railway and then continued on a flat road to Afek Junction (2). There, we carefully crossed road 483 and then continued on a straight dirt route between the agricultural fields. After about 1.5 km, it turns left toward road number 6 and the railway. We stopped a short while later for coffee and waffles.

Then, after taking a group selfie, we continued a few steps and turned right. Now, we were parallel to the road and the railway. After about 600 meters, we reached an old bridge from the Ottoman era (3). This bridge was part of the Eastern Railway. It crossed the Sharon Plain and the eastern Negev to Sinai. The Ottomans used it to transfer soldiers and resources during World War I. Later, the British expanded it to Haifa. Following the establishment of the Coastal Railway, we stopped using it in 1969.  

Ben Gurion International Airport is nearby, too, so we got to see some airplanes flying over our heads. You might see some, too.

The Ottoman era bridge

We continued another 1.9 km and reached a tunnel underneath the railway (4). We passed through it, turned right, and continued for another 840 meters. Then, we crossed a bridge over road number 6. We stopped in the middle of the bridge to take another group selfie. We also took a few moments to watch the cars rushing beneath us.

Road number 6 from the bridge
1 – taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/map
3 – Taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/map
4 – Taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/map

From road number 6 to Mazor Mausoleum:

We left the bridge and turned right onto a small dirt route that went along the agricultural fields. There, we met an old man in a Jeep, who stopped by us. “I’m proud of you,” he said. It wasn’t uncommon because many people have stopped to tell us how proud and impressed they are. It seems that a lot of people dream of hiking the Israel National Trail. Not many do it. We took it as a challenge, and we were doing quite well. So, we were proud of ourselves, too. 

We continued by the fields for about 900 meters and then climbed up to road number 444 (5). The road passes near Elad, a city established for the Ultra-Orthodox and Religious Zionist Jewish populations. We crossed the road and continued on the trail that goes parallel to it, to the south. Make sure to walk beyond the road railing.

After about 680 meters, we reached the Mazor Mausoleum (6), one of the most preserved Roman buildings in Israel. It was built for an unknown couple in the 3rd century CE. They must have been important or wealthy because not many got the honor to get buried in a mausoleum. Later, Muslims added a prayer niche to the southern wall of the building. It was used as a mosque and was called Maqam en Neby Yahyah, “Shrine of the Prophet John.” Prophet John is John the Baptist. Because of its sacredness, no one harmed it over the years. When we were there, it was under repairments.   

Mazor Mausoleum
5 – Taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/map

From Mazor Mausoleum to Shoham Industrial Park:

We continued another 460 meters and reached a big wooden sign with a map of Giv’at Koah Forest (7). The forest, which is also known as Qula Forest, was planted by KKL in the 1950s. From the sign, we continued straight on the peeling asphalt route. Very quickly, it turned to a wide and easy dirt path.

The signpost of Giv’at Koah Forest
Walking through the forest

The trail curves through the forest for about 1.6 km until it reaches road 465 (8). We carefully crossed the road and got to an impressive memorial for 147 fallen soldiers of the 27th Brigade (9). This Israeli armored corps brigade is also known as the “Fist and Lance Brigade.” It was founded in 1952 as the first reserve brigade in the IDF. They took part in many battles, including the Sinai War, the Six-Day War, and the Yom Kippur War. The memorial site includes one tank and two half-tracks which were damaged by the Egyptians during the Six-Day War. There’s also a large explanation sign, but it’s in Hebrew.

The trail continues through the forest on an easy path for about 1.5 km. Then, we reached a moderate climb that led us to a large electricity pole connected to an electricity line. A short while later, we stopped for one of our “conversation circles.” During “conversation circles,” we sat down to talk about various topics. This time, someone put a horrible song about rape and murder and asked what we feel about it. Is hurting someone else part of human nature? I’ll keep it as a point of thought.

From the electricity pole, we went on for about 850 meters. Then, we reached a tunnel underneath road 6 (10). Then, we walked through a large quarry and entered the boundaries of Shoham Industrial Park.

6 – Taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/map
7 – Taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/map

In Shoham Industrial Park:

Shoham Industrial Park is a compound full of industrial headquarters. We walked south on the main road. After about 800 meters, we spotted a gas station to the right of the road. Every time we saw a gas station on the trail, we thought about the popsicles and ice creams sold there. So, we almost went over there. But then, we spotted a large statue of an orange-haired baby, the trademark of Bamba (11). Bamba is one of Israel’s most beloved snacks. It’s made from peanuts and corn. We hurried over to the statue to take another group selfie.

Then, we noticed a small ice cream store nearby. It was the factory store of Nestle. When we entered, we were amazed by the prices. They were so good that each of us bought two and even three ice cream bars. The seller was also friendly. We sat down on the small porch of the store and chatted with him a bit. The store is open Monday to Thursday from 1 PM to 6 PM and on Friday from 9 AM to 2 PM. If you love ice cream bars, it’s a great place to visit!

Ice cream!!!
8 – Taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/map

From Shoham Industrial Park to our endpoint:

After eating all the ice cream bars, we continued about 260 meters and then turned left onto a dirt path (12). Very quickly, it became an asphalt route that went up the hill. Now, we entered the boundaries of Shoham Forest.

At the top of the hill, we reached Horvat Tinshemet, “the Owl Ruins” (13). Most of the ruins are not accessible to the public. But there is an impressive mosaic floor that was part of a Byzantine-era church called St. Bechachus Church. There are even signs in English, which explain what you can see on the ancient floor. One of the fascinating findings in the church is the Tyche Medallion, which shows the pagan goddess of fortune and fate.

The church at Horvat Tinshemet

From the church, we continued on a paved route for about 670 meters until the base of Saflulim Hill (14). In Hebrew, “saflul” is the outer casing of the acorn. Just before we started climbing the hill, a man got out of his car and asked us: “Excuse me, do you know what’s a saflul?” My friends explained to him, and I continued up the hill.  

There’s a nice view from the top, but nothing too impressive. Then, the trail starts descending. About 1.4 km from the top of the hill, we decided to stop for the day (15). This endpoint is in the middle of nowhere, but there’s a trail that leaves the Israel National Trail and turns right toward Shoham. It has no specific color mark.  

Shoham is one of the wealthiest towns in Israel. It is named after one of the 12 stones on the Hoshen, the sacred breastplate worn by the Jewish high priest.

9 – Taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/map
10 – Taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/map

How to get from the trail to Shoham?

From the endpoint, we turned right onto a trail that went in the direction of Shoham. After about 800 meters, we turned right. Then, after about 480 meters, we turned left to a tunnel underneath road 444 (16). From there, we went into Shoham and walked for about 20 minutes to the commercial center. There, there’s a supermarket and some restaurants. It’s near Edmond Safra Square on Emek Ayalon Street.

We got some supplies, bought something to eat, and then contacted our relative. We were lucky to stay at her place because it rained that night.

That’s all for now. I wish you a fantastic hike on the Israel National Trail!

If you want to leave the trail after this segment – You can catch bus number 500 from Shoham. To all major places, you will need to change buses, so it’s best to check the best route for you by using Moovit or Google Maps.

Read more:

Get ready for the trail by reading my post – The Israel National Trail: Ultimate Preparation Guide.

And check out previous segments of the Israel National Trail.

Looking for a tour guide on the Israel National Trail?

Contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com or read more here.

Pin this post for later!


Hiked the trail in November 2020.

If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share and a comment (:

If you need any help with planning this hike, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com. I also offer guided hiking tours on several segments of the Israel National Trail.

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And plan a great trip to Israel using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Free things to do Hiking in Israel Israel National Trail Tel Aviv

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Tel Aviv to Tel Afek

The previous day, we arrived in Tel Aviv and had an interesting night at the Roof Farm. We woke up early to catch the bus to this day’s segment and got off on road 482. Then, we walked off the road to Yarkon Park and continued east on the Israel National Trail. By doing this, we actually skipped about 3.8 km of the trail. I think we missed all the interesting spots in the park. But… That’s what we did.

The segment from Tel Aviv to Tel Afek is easy and fun. It goes along the meandering Yarkon River, the largest coastal river in Israel. In the end, it reaches the Yarkon National Park, where the sources of the river are located.

Trail length: About 20 km. You can also hike it from the other direction.

Trail duration: About 6-10 hours, depending on your pace.

Difficulty level: Easy.

Best season: Fall (October-November), Winter (December-January), and Spring (February-April).

Water along the way: There are drinking water taps close to the starting point of the segment, in Yarkon Park. Then, after you leave the park, the next drinking tap is only next to the Baptist Village (about 17.5 km from the start). There’s also a drinking tap at the campsite at the end.

Stay options at the end of the trail: There is a free campsite at the end, with a drinking tap. The campsite is called Yarkon National Park Overnight Campground. I also know you can stay at the nearby Baptist Village. You can find the contact details in this list.

Table of contents:

  1. Safety instructions and general notes
  2. How to get to the head of the trail?
  3. A bit about the Yarkon River
  4. The trail from Tel Aviv to Tel Afek

Safety instructions and general notes:

· The hike is under your responsibility, so please be careful.

· Make sure you hike with good hiking shoes, have at least 3 liters of water (and 5 on hot days), and wear a hat. Pack food and snacks for the whole day, BUT make sure to bring a garbage bag as well and take your garbage with you, including toilet papers.

· Don’t go on the hike when it is too hot (over 30 degrees Celsius), because it’s not enjoyable and can end with heatstroke. There are many parts without shade on this segment. Also, after rainfall, parts of this segment could be muddy.

· Pay attention to sunset hours (in Summer around 6-7 PM, in Winter around 4-5 PM). Try to begin the hike before 8 AM so you will have time to rest a bit during the hot hours of the afternoon and still get it to the end of the trail. 

· The phone signal is good throughout the trail.

· Before you begin the hike, make sure you have a good trail map. The trail isn’t always well marked, so it’s good to have a map. You can also use a navigation app such as the Israel Hiking Map. With GPS, you can also see where you are exactly. Though, remember that wherever you do see a trail mark – this trail mark is superior to what’s shown on your map. You can also download the trail map in English (created by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel). For this segment, you will need to download this map and this map. The maps are extremely basic but give you a general sense of the trail.

· The trail is marked with the Israel National Trail colors, orange-blue-white.

· If you need any further help with planning your trail, I recommend posting on the Israel National Trail forum on Tapatalk. Of course, you can also talk to me through lior@backpackisrael.com.

This segment starts in Yarkon Park, next to road number 482. It’s hard to find parking in Tel Aviv, so it’s best to come by public transport. If you still want to come by car, you can park at the Yarkon Park Parking Lot and continue on foot to the start point.

By public transportation:

From Tel Aviv, it depends where exactly are you coming from. It’s best to use Moovit or Google Maps to find the best route for you. Type in the search “Raoul Wallenberg” (in Hebrew: מבצע קדש/ראול ולנברג). This is the station we got off.

From Haifa, it is best to take a bus or train to Savidor Center Station in Tel Aviv. From there, take bus number 142 or any other bus that arrives at “Raoul Wallenberg” station (in Hebrew: מבצע קדש/ראול ולנברג). It takes about an hour and a half to arrive.

From Jerusalem, go to the Central Station and get on bus number 480 to Savidor Center Station in Tel Aviv. From there, you can take bus number 143 or any other bus that arrives at “Raoul Wallenberg” station (in Hebrew: מבצע קדש/ראול ולנברג).

A few words about Yarkon River:

f

Since this segment goes parallel to the Yarkon River, let’s learn a bit about it. The Yarkon River spreads to a length of about 27.5 km. It meanders all the way, which gave it its Arabic name, “al-Auja”, which means “curving”.

The river was a source of water for many settlements, that were established on its banks. One of those settlements was Tell Qasile, founded by the Philistines in the 12th century BCE. Another settlement was Tel Afek, which was established as a city in Herod’s time, in the 1st century BCE. He called it Antipatris in honor of his father, Antipater.

Today, the river looks ridiculously small and not at all threatening. But long ago, this river was flowing with a lot of water. People had to go to the river’s sources to be able to pass it. That is why it was a natural obstacle in both ancient and modern times. During World War I, the Turks established a line of defense along the northern bank of the river. They tried to block the British but were unsuccessful. Later, when the British ruled the Land of Israel, they transferred the water of the Yarkon to Jerusalem.

When Israel was founded in 1948, we started using more and more of the water. The flow got terribly slow, and the river shrunk. We also started draining sewage into the river. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was a river of sewage, filled with toxic substances, organic garbage, flies, and more. Following the Maccabiah bridge collapse in 1997, we understood how dangerous the water is and started working on rehabilitation of the river. Still, the water isn’t suitable for swimming.    

The trail from Tel Aviv to Tel Afek:

From road number 482 to road number 5:

The trail map, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/
The trail map, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/
The trail map, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/

We took the bus to “Raoul Wallenberg” station (1). From there, we got off the bridge of road number 482 and entered Yarkon Park. Before starting the hike, we stopped for coffee and cookies on a stone picnic table.

After the refreshments, we continued on our way. People were jogging, walking, and bicycling in the park. We continued for about 1.7 km on the asphalt trail until a right turn onto a dirt route (2). The route goes right next to the Yarkon River. We couldn’t see the flow because of all the water plants growing next to it, but you can sense it. The humidity was terribly high.

The righ to turn to the dirt path

After about 540 meters, we reached the bridge of road number 4 (3) and passed underneath it. We continued on the trail for about 2.5 km and arrived at a big sign talking about a stone dam (4). It said that the stone dam is supposed to help mix the water and clean them. There are several dams like this along the Yarkon. From there, we continued another kilometer to the bridge of road number 5 (5).

Orchards on the way

From road number 5 to Abu Rabah mill:

The trail map, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/

The trail continues on quite a boring route along the river. Most of the way, you can’t see the river because of the water plants. Then, after about 5.2 km, we reached a charming point where the trail is shaded by an archway of reeds. This shading archway continues for a while. When we got out of it, we could see Tel Qana to our left, in the distance (6). There was once an ancient settlement there, on the banks of the Yarkon River. Today, it’s a small mound.

We crossed an old bridge above Nahal Hadar (7), a small seasonal river that flows to the Yarkon. Afterward, we turned right with the trail, passed through another archway of reeds, and reached another bridge (8). This time, it was a small bridge of the Yarkon River. We crossed it to the other side of the Yarkon and slowly left the side of the river.

The shaded passage
Tel Qana in the distance

At some point, we took a wrong turn, that brought us nearer to the river. Then, we thought we lost the trail because it seemed the trail was on the other side of the river. So, we thought about crossing the Yarkon River, but the flow was too hard. Nitai crossed it by passing over some stones. But the rest of us didn’t want to take the chance. So, we retraced our steps and reconnected to the Israel National Trail. It went far away from the river, on a wide Jeep route. Then, it returned to the river and reached Abu Rabah mill (9).

The mill was built in the 1880s by Sheikh Abu-Rabah. It ceased working as a flour mill in 1948. In 1950, it was used to irrigate the citrus groves of an agricultural contracting company. Today, it’s no longer functional.

The Abu Rabah mill

From Abu Rabah mill to the Baptist Village:

The trail map, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/
The trail map, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/

Next to the Abu Rabah mill, there was an easy way to cross the river. Then, we continued for about 900 meters until the bridge of road number 40 (10). We crossed beneath it, although it was super muddy. Then continued for a bit until we reached an old, crumbling building. This is where we met our friend, Oria, who wanted to join us for a day and a half.

We met Oria over here

Then, we continued together for about 1.5 km and reached the Lea House (11). We didn’t look inside because it looked like an old and crumbling building, too. But we did stop next to the bank of the Yarkon River and took an afternoon nap. Lea House was built in the 19th century, in the heart of the orchards. There was a pumping facility on the first floor, that was used to pump water from the river to the nearby orchard. The second floor was built later and was most likely a vacation house for the orchard owners.

After the nap, we continued for another 350 meters and then passed by a shaded sitting area (12). There was a big sign there, saying that hikers and bikers were welcome to sit over there. They just asked to keep the place clean and quiet.

A rooster next to Lea House
The shaded sitting area

From there, we continued another kilometer until we reached the bridge of road number 5 (13). Here, the path underneath the bridge was completely muddy and part of it was flooded. So, we walked on the concrete sidestep, at the side of the tunnel.

230 meters afterward, we reached a bridge that crossed to the other bank of the river. We crossed it and then continued 840 meters to the Baptist Village (14).

Below road number 5

From the Baptist Village to Yarkon National Park Overnight Campground:

The trail map, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/

We stopped to fill water at the drinking tap next to the Baptist Village. The Baptist Village was established in 1956 by a group of Christian Baptists from the USA. At first, it functioned as an orphanage and then turned into a school. Today it functions as a hostel and church for the Baptist community. Next to the drinking tap, there was a sign explaining the place. They also organize educational conferences for teenagers and soldiers who are part of the Messianic Jewish community. We opened the drawer next to the sign and found a lot of books connected to Jesus and Christianity.

The Baptist Village

Then, we continued for another 600 meters and crossed underneath the railway (15). From there, we walked another 500 meters to the back entrance to Yarkon National Park (16). There were no entrance fees. Right next to the back entrance, we saw the “Pillbox”. This circular structure was built by the British in 1936 to guard the railway from Arab rioters. The railway line that passes next to the “pillbox” was constructed in 1921. It was built to connect Petach Tiqva to Rosh Ha’Ayin. This way, the citrus fruit growers of Petach Tiqva could transfer their fruits more easily to Jaffa Port.  

We continued parallel to the railway for a short while and then turned right toward the Water-Lilly Pond (17). It’s a short detour off the trail. There’s a lovely pond over there, covered with yellow water lilies, also known as Nuphars. We stopped to rest nearby the pond and talked about jealousy, especially among women. Then, another hiker joined us, and we talked to him for a bit before continuing to the campground, which was 800 meters away.

The Pillbox and a train that went by

The Yarkon National Park Overnight Campground:

The campground is quite basic, with a flat area to place a tent and a drinking water tap. Beyond the fence is Tel Afek, which is part of the Yarkon National Park. According to archeological excavations, it seems that it has been settled continuously for about 5,000 years, from the Copper Age. A city and a fortress were built here by Herod the Great in the 1st century BCE.  I’m not sure if you can enter that area for free, because the trail doesn’t pass near the fortress.  

A bit south to the campground is a small pond, which is beautiful at sunset. There are also some herb plants that grow around it. The problem is that it draws mosquitos. This was one of the only places on the trail that we used our mosquito repellent. Oh, and there’s the train that passes nearby almost all night long.

That’s all for now. I wish you a fantastic hike on the Israel National Trail!

Continue to the next segment – From Tel Afek to Shoham.

If you want to leave the trail after this segment – You will need to walk about 1.6 km to road 483 and catch a bus from the station called “Afek Park/483”. You will probably need at least 2 buses, so it’s best to check the best route for you by using Moovit or Google Maps.

Read more:

Get ready for the trail by reading my post – The Israel National Trail: Ultimate Preparation Guide.

And check out previous segments of the Israel National Trail.

Looking for a guide on the Israel National Trail? Contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com or read more here.  

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Hiked the trail in November 2020.

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Yours,

Lior