Well… Week four was somewhat surreal. I spent the week basically circumnavigating around my hometown of Beit Shemesh – constantly and tantalizingly within 5 to 20 minutes' drive from home. My bed! My shower! My family! My friends! (Who are, also and in all ways, family....). It all called to me.
But also - I found it fascinating that so near to home, there is so much I had never explored, in 20 years of living in this area and thirty in the country. Just proves the old cliché there's more in your own backyard then you ever imagined – you just have to take the time to look, and to appreciate.
The week started out in the rain - with a forecast for intermittent rain literally all week. Not 200m from home of the the kind family I stayed in on Saturday night... downpour! But with the help of five local farmers from the moshav Lakhish, each with a different phone app with satellite images of clouds, and predictions for precipitation - each of whom had an opinion, and as good Israelis expressed it loudly, as to whether I should set out immediately, or wait an hour, or just head back to the house (real helpful, thanks) - I got underway.
After visiting different archaeological remains of various Byzantine and Roman fortresses in the desert, I have been unexpectedly moved by my visits now to Tel Arad, last week, and this week first to Tel Lakhish, and then Tel Maresha, and then Tel Azeka, and others – all mentioned in the Bible, all centers of commerce and defensive positions from the time of the first Israeli national presence here.
And the reconstructed amphitheater at Beit Guvrin is so impressive - smaller but in fact better preserved and presented than the Coliseum in Rome - that I was astounded at how real and almost alive it all seems.
But hey – that's all in the past (tho with great relevance today of course)! How about the here and now? It's really a bit amazing – as an avid biker in the area over the last 20 years, and as a winemaker familiar with the two dozen or so wineries and their vineyards in these Judean hills, I thought I knew most of the hills and fields and vineyards around here. But no: Wow. I must have walked by or through or around at least 100 vineyards this past week, rolling through the hills and valleys between Lachish and Mesillat Tziyon, including some spectacular hillside כרמים in the Jerusalem hills.
Cabernet, Petite Syrah, Carignan, Merlot, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Petite Verdot - and those are only the ones I could identify (by signs or asking; yes, I can pretty well distinguish them by taste or bouquet, but not by leaf or branch!).... And I won't go into the almost spiritual beauty of luscious rising and falling fields of green wheat stretching into the distance, watched over by ruins of biblical settlements in a panorama reminiscent, I'm sure, of how it was in those times as well.... Napa, Bordeaux, you have nothing on Ella, Adulam, Lakhish, Eshtaol valleys....
Then midweek was caught in the rain (and hail!) of a late-winter storm in the Jerusalem hills as I made my way up to Hadassah Ein Kerem along Nachal Refayim and by Yad Kennedy... which was kind of fun, if different, at the outset; and something of a nightmare by the end. Which made the 'refuge' of the special hut at Hadassah all the more welcome. Soaked to the skin, I draped all my clothes over the radiator... and turned on the electric stovetop for extra warmth as the rain continued to pelt down outside! Such a relief to have a roof overhead....
And this is a good place to note with incalculable gratitude the incredible hospitality of my friends along the way - and in particular Arieh O'Sullivan and Ilan Halperin - what would I have done without you? (Remain wet, & unshowered, & hungry... and lonely!) 😌
And ditto the amazing and (yes, I can admit) emotional evening awaiting for me when Moriyah and Yonatan & Shira kidnapped me Wed night from Hadassah, blindfolded me, and took me to meet up with - "surprise!!!" - the best friends anyone could ever have: Aaron & Hadas, Mike & Deb, Jeremy & Mandy (and Eitan and Sivan too).
It's not that I hadn't realized how much I'd missed you all; it just made it all the more tangible. It was so wonderful and uplifting seeing each of you - I so appreciate the effort (& patience! 😝) involved. And thanks Yaakov & Shalva and Zvi for being there in spirit. It was a fabulous meal and so much fun too. What am I doing getting back on the trail...?!?
I really could go on and on - and I guess I have.
But this special week ended, as all weeks should, with a restful and soul-enriching Shabbat - this, my only "שבת בשטח" so far, in the Eshtaol Forest in the appropriately-named "חניון ג׳וני" next to Mesilat Tziyon, shared with my best friend Zvika - who as not the biggest fan of camping proved his friendship once again by joining me for a Cochini, vegetarian, cold-&-rainy-night, wild-cats-all-over-the-place, where's-the-sun-they-forecast Shabbat in the forest... which, we agreed in the end, was absolutely fantastic, relaxing & enjoyable. Including singing the same verses over and over of ידיד נפש at סעודה שלישית since it was too dark to read and we couldn't remember the other ones... and we'd started the Purim celebrations a bit early with delicious bottle of Midbar Winery "Red 44"....
Next week will relay the pleasures of a Purim in the forest. 😜
Shavua Tov and Chag Sameach - from the bus from Afula to Kiryat Shmoneh; Yon, thanks for the ride! Starting to head South from Kibbutz Dan tomorrow - hope to arrive back home on Friday April 11 (Shabbat haGadol). See u on the Shvil.... 😎