Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Families take a Sukkot walk in the Lahav Forest in the Negev with KKL-JNF. Lahav Forest forms part of the Israel National Trail.
Lookout point at Joe Alon Center. Photo: Tania Susskind
"The Israel National Trail was first inaugurated in 1995, and since then, it has become a favorite trek for both Israelis and also for visitors from abroad. National Geographic described it as one of the most important trails in the world. In honor of its 111th anniversary, KKL-JNF is promoting walks for families and for experienced hikers along segments of the Israel Trail that go through KKL-JNF forests and parks." Tal
, a KKL-JNF National Service volunteer, was explaining about the Israel Trail to a group of families who came on Sukkot to KKL-JNF's Lahav Forest
, despite the constant shelling of Israel's south by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The group met at the Joe Alon Center for Regional Studies, which was named after Colonel Joe Alon of the Israeli Air Force, who was mysteriously murdered in 1973. The center is located in the heart of Lahav Forest, in the southern highlands of the Judean Plain, and commands an impressive view of much of the northern Negev. It specializes in the geography of Israel, particularly that of the Negev, and includes a museum of Bedouin Culture. Tal led the group to an observation deck on the roof of the Center, where there is a stunning panorama of the surrounding area and the KKL-JNF forests planted in the region.
Israel National Trail sign. Photo: Tania Susskind
"Lahav Forest was planted by KKL-JNF in 1952," Tal continued. "It was later expanded by new immigrants during the 1960s, and presently has over 3,000,000 trees on an area of about 30,000 dunams. The forest was planted with the help of friends of KKL-JNF in Israel and around the world, including Canada
The group followed the orange, blue and white markers of the Israel Trail up a hill to the Rimon Ruins, where there are remains of an ancient Jewish synagogue from the Second Temple era. The inhabitants of this village comprised the remnant that had not been exiled to Babylon. On the climb up, one of the hikers asked how much further away the ruins were, and one of the other participants laughingly answered, "What's your problem? KKL-JNF didn't say that this was a hike for geriatric patients."
Walking up to Rimon Ruins. Photo: Tania Susskind
At the site, Tal pointed out a mikve, a ritual bath for purification. He noted that this mikve was filled by rainwater and was large enough for a person to immerse their entire body in, as Jewish law stipulates. At the top of the hill, the group sat in what had been a large public building. "How do we know that this was a synagogue?" Tal asked. One of the group members was quick to answer: "Because it faces north, which is the direction of Jerusalem."
"True enough," Tal said, "but there is also another proof. Look carefully at the floor." Everyone started looking around very intently, until one of the children exclaimed, "Look, I just found a part of a menorah chiseled into the floor." "Exactly," Tal said, "and there are also five engraved rosettes around it, a typical Jewish ornament in the days of the Second Temple."
Family reunion between the Goldfarb and Weinberg families. Photo: Tania Susskind
Two of the families in the group, the Goldfarbs and the Weinbergs, are cousins who met each other on the hike by total chance. "We hadn't seen each other for quite awhile, and then all of a sudden here were both families on a KKL-JNF outing," said Kobi
. "One of our children is eleven years old, and she would probably have preferred to stay at home with her computer, but we want her to get a feel for nature and our history. In the meantime, she's loving it."
Moshe and Efrat from Dimona came with their two daughters, Hadar and Gaia. "Dimona really isn't so far from here, just about 45 minutes away," Efrat said. "We are part of a group of twenty families of former students who are making their home in Dimona. Although Moshe and I were born there, it's become really difficult to buy an apartment, real estate in Dimona is very much in demand. This is the first time we joined a KKL-JNF activity, but it certainly won't be the last time."
KKL-JNF picnic area. Photos: Tania Susskind
Donor plaque for Teva Forest.
After hiking back to the Joe Alon Center, the group drove in their cars to the Teva Forest, where KKL-JNF National Service volunteers were putting up a succah and leading activities for the children. Teva Forest was planted by the management and employees of Israel's Teva Pharmaceutical Company to promote afforestation in the Negev and for the benefit of the general public. Activities included themes related to the Sukkot holiday, KKL-JNF, the Negev and the Israel Trail.
"One of the best things about KKL-JNF events," Kobi concluded, "is the people you meet. They really are the 'salt of the earth'."