March 29, 2013

Holiday of Freedom

Pesach is in in full force around the Jewish world. And here in Israel, the holiday ‘energy’ is palpable. In fact, I am always surprised by how everyone here has any energy left after spending so much time industriously cleaning their homes, shopping, then diligently preparing loads of food for this holiday.

Pesach is all encompassing: it is hinted at in the commercials for house cleaning products while cell phone companies offer unlimited mobile time on their pass over to our plan promos. And mah nishtanah becomes a regular radio jingle for selling insurance, mortgages and  hotel get aways.

Holiday is on the brain. All school children are on vacation, and many adults take off the week.  Shopkeepers tend to shut down and many restauranteurs, especially bakery owners, look forward to the one week they can happily hang a CLOSED sign in their windows.

And as soon as the Yom Tov is out and chol hamoed begins, people are packing their cars with sunscreen and strollers, bathing suits and barbecues, heading for forests, parks and beaches. Teens hitch on their backpacks and pitch tents along the Kinneret and on the Mediterranean. Packed flights land non-stop in Ben Gurion and tourists file out, filling the hotels from north to south.

We decided to take the path of nature, rising early and picking a hiking trail that was not on the regular top ten hikes. We desperately wanted to avoid crowds and actually feel as if we were in nature and not in a human zoo.

Our trail headed south from Highway 85 down to the Kinneret. This is part of the famous Yam le Yam Trail (Sea to Sea), which winds from the beaches of Nahariyya to the edge of the Kinneret. It is also a small piece of the incredible Israel Trail that stretches from the Eilat Mountains in the south to the Hermon at Israel’s northern tip.

We were up early. It was fresh and cool. Our hike followed a dry riverbed, winding through a valley that became a canyon with soaring rocks on either side. Swallows flitted out of dark caves that pocked the cliff face. Archeologists have found proof that Neanderthal man populated this 'hood some 150,000 years old. Wondering who in history had taken this same path was very sobering. We saw a huge chimney like structure butting out and now knew why this whole nature reserve was called Nahal Amud, Stream of the Column.

As the canyon gave way to meadows and the riverbed filled with cool water, we heard the shrieks of children.  Leaving our quiet sanctuary behind, we walked past orchards of flowering mangoes and lychees, groves of bananas, the bunches covered in large blue bags.

Suddenly we saw a turquoise glint. It was the Kinneret. We soon came out onto the highway and felt overwhelmed by the cars and packed buses that zoomed past.

We blinked then drew a deep breath, placing this into perspective. It was frantic, but it was all good. Here we are, celebrating Passover, the Holiday of Freedom, here in Eretz Israel. We shook off our dusty hiking boots and looked at the sparkling lake in front of us; freedom doesn't get better than this.

Chag Sameach!

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