"I have to say, this is the first time I ever had a group of people where everyone showed up exactly on time," Dr. Anat Maimoni, our KKL-JNF guide, greeted us.
"That's because almost everyone here is over forty," answered Dani, one of many participants on a trip through KKL-JNF's Canada Ayalon Park that took place on Monday, August 18. The trip was part of the recent Bible Festival, which focuses on the connection between the Land of Israel and the Bible through lectures, hikes and art and music events for all ages.
Anat told us that we would be learning about trees mentioned in the Bible. "But first, let me tell you something about the site chosen for this trip. We are in Canada Ayalon Park, which has two names for two reasons. KKL-JNF was able to develop this 7,000 dunam (about 1750 acres) park thanks to the assistance of Canadian Jewry, and it was named in their honor. Ayalon is the biblical name of the region, which unfortunately has a long history of battles, due to its strategic location between the mountain and the plain. One of the most famous was Joshua's war against the Canaanite kings that concluded with the cry, "Sun, stand still in Givon, and moon in the valley of Ayalon" (Joshua 10:12). One of Judah the Maccabee's most important battles took place here, when, thanks to his familiarity with the area's topography, he lured the Romans into a trap. In modern times, heavy fighting took place here between the IDF and the Arab Legion during the War of Independence.
"But we're not here to learn about wars, today we want to talk about trees. Trees were always a part of the Land of Israel's natural scenery, although it's unlikely that there were many large conifer forests in biblical times like there are today, thanks to KKL-JNF. Pine trees do, however, appear once in the Bible, in Isaiah 44:4. There are 11 fruit trees and 26 species of trees that don't bear fruit mentioned in the Bible."
Anat led us to a point overlooking Canada Park's picturesque Springs Valley, where KKL-JNF created an artificial lake fed by the nearby springs. Many of the participants brought notebooks or I-pods for taking notes about what they would be learning. Anat went on: "Everyone knows that there are seven species that Israel is famous for, five of them trees. Which of them can you see here in the valley?"
The quickest person to answer was five-year old Yuval, definitely the youngest member of the group: "Olive trees, they're everywhere." Anat agreed and told us that the Bible doesn't talk about olives as a fruit that you eat: "In biblical times, olive trees were primarily a source of olive oil, which was not used for salads or sautÃ©ing vegetables, but for fuel, mainly light. One of the most interesting things about the olive tree is that one year it is prolific and gives a lot of fruit while the year after, there is almost no produce. All the olive trees in the Mediterranean basin are synchronized around this cycle. On Sukkot, it has become a KKL-JNF tradition to invite everyone to the olive tree orchards to participate in the harvest.
"The other trees we see here are date palms and fig trees. The branches of the date palms are used for lulavs, one of the four species we are commanded to use on Sukkot, along with willows, also one of the four species. The fig tree reminds us of the prophetic vision of a time when 'each person will sit beneath his grape vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid (Micah 4:4).' Canada Park has a lot of carob trees, so here's a question for you: How many times are carobs mentioned in the Bible?"
Dalit from Ra'anana answered immediately: "Not even once."
Anat was pleased. "This group seems to know everything. You're right. Although the carob is mentioned a number of times in the Talmud, it doesn't appear in the Bible. One of the things it was famous for in ancient times was that its seeds all have almost exactly the same weight, so they were used to weigh gold. A 'karat', as in 24 karat gold, is actually a carob seed!"
Before we left the scenic valley, we stopped by some reeds, and once again it was time for a Bible quiz: "Where are reeds used as an allegory in the Bible?" "That's easy enough," answered Kobi, a pensioner from Jerusalem. "In Ezekiel 29:6, where it says that Egypt was like a staff of reed for Israel, one that easily breaks and is unreliable."
We went back to our cars and drove to a magnificent scenic lookout from which we could see the entire Ayalon Valley and the new city of Modi'in. In the foreground, directly beneath us, was a water reservoir built by KKL-JNF with help of JNF Canada friends. Anat reminded us that KKL-JNF is not only about trees and forests, but also water issues. "And if we're already talking about forests, it says in II Kings 2:24 that two bears came out of the forest to attack the children who goaded the prophet Elisha. Fortunately or unfortunately, there are no wild bears in Israel today, but there are lots of herbs growing in the forests that make the best herbal tea you can imagine."
Elisheva from nearby Re'ut had an idea about another Biblical source for a forest: "In II Samuel 24:9 it says that when Avshalom, David's son, was fleeing, he was riding on a mule that went 'under the thick boughs of a great oak' and his long, beautiful hair was caught in the branches. He was pulled off his mule and 'was suspended between heaven and earth.' He must have been riding through a thick forest, otherwise, why would he be riding so close to a tree?"
Anat was impressed: "I actually never thought of that. As long as you mentioned oak trees, the word used in II Samuel, elah, is usually identified today with the terebinth, although we never know for certain what the Biblical names mean. The Canaanites worshipped both oaks and terebinth, and in fact, elah also means "goddess" in Hebrew. This is why the Torah tells us in Deuteronomy 16:21 not to plant an ashera tree next to God's altar, so that it would not be worshipped.
And look, we also have an atad here, which is commonly translated as a boxthorn. Anyone interested in the famous parable of the atad can find it in Judges 9:8."
There is no better way to learn about the connection between the people of Israel and the Land of Israel than by being in nature and seeing how the two are so intrinsically related. We probably could have gone on and on, but the sun had already set over the Ayalon Valley, and as Reuven Furst from Ramat Gan put it, "Who needs to go to Key West in Florida for a sunset when they can see one at Canada Park no less beautiful?"
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