January 25, 2016

Rabbi (Rabbie) Burns

O my Luve is like a red, red rose
   That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
   That’s sweetly played in tune.

 Today marks the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland’s favourite poet and national bard, affectionately known as Rabbie Burns. His birthday, January 25th, is celebrated as the biggest night of the year in the Scottish calendar

Across Scotland, people gather for a Burns Supper of whiskey, haggis and poetry.  Traditionally, guests sit around a table, whisky in hand and haggis is brought out on a large tray. The host stands up, and flourishing a ceremonial knife,  he recites Burns’ poem on Haggis.
Introducing a new 10-pound note in honor of Robert Burns.

Hang onto your haggis….how does an observant Jewish woman from Toronto know about this? And what’s the connection between Burns Day and life in Israel?

Ay. Israel is the home to Jews from all over the world. We have Anglo immigrants from every continent here and they all bring a wee bit of home with them when they make aliyah.  

The Americans take their Thanksgiving dinner very seriously, serving a classic roast turkey with cranberry sauce. In 2011, the Brits here went bonkers over the Royal Wedding and some held a special English Afternoon Tea in honour of the event. 

The South Africans import biltong (beef jerky) and have their own grocery store here in Ra’anana called Meatland--just in case they run out. For many Australians, the Aussie barbie is a sacred Thursday evening event. As for us Canadians, well, we keep a low profile, but tend to know the Leafs' standing in the NHL.

And the Scots? Well, here is a wee look at what happens when Glaswegians come to Israel….

On Saturday, we were invited to a Shabbat Kiddush after shul. This was not your average Kiddush; it was to honor Rabbi (aka Rabbie) Burns on his upcoming birthday.
Far from R'anana...Burns' cottage in Alloway, Scotland.

We warmed up with standard kiddush fare, eating herring, chopped egg and hummous. Suddenly, our hosts marched from the kitchen with a large tray. Here we were, Americans, Canadians, Brits and Australians sitting with our whiskey on a Shabbos morning in complete awe. Grasping a carving knife, Ellis started to recite Burns’ poem on Haggis and we sat spellbound as he eloquently delivered the rich words of the Bard.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,

Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Traditional (not kiddush) haggis.
Our delicious mock haggis was a kosher, vegetarian rendition. One of the guests then stood up and recited A Red, Red Rose to his wife, explaining that this was his favourite poem in Yeshiva.

We all come from many places in the world and now that we are living in Israel, we share, learn and become enriched from each other’s rich cultures.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
   And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
   While the sands o’ life shall run. 

Thank ye Ellis and Susan

January 21, 2016

Sir Edmund Hillary

Here I go again. Writing about hiking.  You may wonder if I ever do anything else. Well, I do. But hiking opens my eyes and heart in such an incredible way, I become inspired to share these experiences. 

And the darker our world becomes, the more drawn I am to the simple life of the trail where I am focused solely on placing one foot in front of the next, gazing at nature’s wonders with every breath of fresh air.

On our last hiking adventure, we came across a beautiful person, a hero in my hiking story. As we were taking a morning break on the edge of a steep wadi, a head popped up in front of us. A slight young woman with an imposingly huge backpack, a khaki canvas hat and round glasses asked if this was the right trail. Turns out she was on the right trail going in the wrong direction.

We picked up our packs and headed off together, kindling a friendship with one very special woman named Hilary. She is walking the Israel Trail as I write this. This letter is dedicated to our new trail friend.  (Are you curious as to why we named her Sir Edmund Hillary?) 

Dear Sir Edmund Hillary,

We are in total admiration of your spunk, curiosity, zest and sense of adventure. After spending 18 months of volunteering in poor communities all over Asia, helping the poor, teaching them and inspiring them, you have decided to visit Israel.

You knew little about Israel and, being from a small town in Wyoming, had not met Jewish people before. In fact, your motivation for walking the Shvil Israel came from reading a National Geographic article. Was it the same article I linked to in my last post? The article intrigued you so much, you caught a plane to Ben Gurion airport and took a bus straight to Kiryat Shmona. On December 18, you started walking south from Nimrod’s Castle.

You are a woman traveling alone in the Middle East in a foreign land with a foreign language. You do not know a word of Hebrew and cannot even read the road or trail signs. Yet you have a goal.  A very ambitious goal.

The first night, you pitched your tent in the dark at the side of a road. Two soldiers found you and offered you accommodation nearby. You followed, wondering whether this was safe or crazy until you realized that you were in a country where people look after each other.

Since that first night, you have spent countless evenings in the homes of perfect strangers, trail angels who happily invite you into their lives. They provide you with hot meals, a snug bed, laundry facilities and warm company.

You experienced Shabbat for the first time and have had Friday night dinners at many Israeli tables. “I just love Shabbat,” you said. “It’s like having Thanksgiving dinner every week. It’s amazing that families are together so often.”

When one trail angel asked you where your coat was and you replied that you didn’t bring one, assuming Israel was always a hot country, she explained that winters in Israel are cold. “And you’ll be in the desert in January?” she asked in shock. “Take this,” she said, handing you a coat.

And as we walked together through the cold desert, you were wearing this same coat. In fact, you said you were wearing everything you had in your backpack. I was intrigued by the beauty of your life on the trail: the sheer simplicity of this in a world over run with stuff and where quality is gauged by quantity. Not so on the trail, where every ounce of weight in your backpack is a commodity and can weigh you down.

And now here you are, 759 kilometers later, strong and lean and determined to finish the trail.  You have seen more of Israel than most Israelis ever will in a lifetime. And we hope you will go home and tell your story. 

Thank you for being a true world explorer and coming to Israel when most reports about this country are so negative. Your open mind helps you to truly experience all of the wonders and beautiful surprises in this country.  

Spread the word about the warmth and hospitality you experienced here, about the beauty of the land, the generosity of the people and their love for life.

Come back with family and friends...we look forward to our next hike together.

From your admiring hikers and new Israeli friends

January 10, 2016

Trail Magic

Trail Angels. Anyone met one? According to a few trekking websites, this is a trail angel:

Definition A Trail Angel: a townie or other person who provides unexpected and much-appreciated assistance to a hiker.

Definition B Trail Angel: a person, or persons, who practice trail magic; (see: 'Trail Magic')
Trail Magic: an act of seemingly random kindness by a trail angel; (see: 'Trail Angel').

 I have read about this species over the years but never met one up close until last week. And no, he did not have a halo, but if I could read auras, I bet I would have seen one floating atop Aryeh’s head!

Arad bursts out from the desert.
Now that we are hiking the desert portion of the Shvil Israel, we are often gone overnight due to the distance from our home to the desert. We have stayed in modest zimmers and have camped outside. Last week, we decided to call a trail angel (in advance, of course) to book a place in his Bedouin Tent in Arad for a night.

We hiked all day and then popped into a grocery store in Arad to buy some food supplies. And a bottle of wine. Just because. We called our trail angel and he told us he was not yet home. He said we should go to his house where there would be a tent in the backyard.

“Make yourselves at home. I’ll be there soon.”

We arrived and looked around. Mattresses were piled up in the corners. There was a collection of hooka pipes, random cooking items and toiletries, a kettle, a basket stacked with signed guest books and a large photo of a handsome young man, Ofir. The inscription said he had passed away.  We quickly understood that this was probably our host’s son. 

There was a makeshift cubicle in the middle of the garden with a toilet and shower and a palm frond roof like one would expect on Gilligan’s Island.

Aryeh arrived home and proudly showed us around. He brought us toilet paper and some tea bags. He was a bit surprised to see us hiking the desert in January. "It's too cold now. Most hikers come during the spring and fall." 

We explained that we are former Canadians and can handle the cold. Or 'should' be able to; I wore my sleeping bag like a hooded vampire.

We asked Aryeh to join us for a glass of wine and we sat in his front garden as he smoked his pipe.

“Lechaim,” we clinked glasses and posed together for a photo which he printed out and pasted onto a blank page of an album. “Please write something, he said.”

He told us he has hosted some 4,500 hikers in the past nine years. We asked him about Ofir and he told us his son was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident at the age of 23. Aryeh decided to set up this tent in his son's memory. 

Aryeh has never hiked the Shvil Israel but wants to. In the meantime, he does so vicariously through his guests.

Not only does he host everyone for free, providing mattresses, hot water and a kind smile, he also picks up hikers in trouble and drives long distances to return items that hikers forget at his place. With a job, wife, kids and grandchildren, he has a very full life. Yet he has a full heart.

This is not unusual to find in Israel. In fact, when the National Geographic named the world’s epic trails in an article called Holy Grails of Trails, the Israel National Trail placed way up there. Not only is the trail magnificent by world hiking standards, “The biggest blessing here comes in the form of ‘trail angels’ along the INT who give a helping hand and often offer a place to stay free of charge to thru-hikers.”

This all began around 15 years again when the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) registered the program and published a list of all of the angels.

The trail angels here open their homes to total strangers from all over the world. Some offer hikers hot food including Shabbat meals, laundry, wifi, and if they have advance notice, a birthday cake and bottle of wine. 

Hikers either sleep outside in a tent or inside on a couch or in a spare bedroom. Some angels will even pick up guests from the trail at day’s end and drop them off in morning. One trail angel explains, “I never say no.”

In a world where people have lost trust and where hospitality has been put aside due to a fast-paced life, it is comforting to know that angels exist and random acts of kindness abound. And in Israel, these acts are not so random; these are a way of life and are woven into the fabric that is Israel's magic.