They may not have wings or special powers that go beyond providing thirsty hikers with water for their canteens or a place to put their heads, but the "Trail Angels" of the Israel Trail are as much a godsend as any divine emissaries mentioned in the Bible.
Offering a yard to sleep in, a canister to fill canteens from or even a meal or a bed for the night, the "angels" - generally people who believe in the trail's importance and in encouraging those who use it, while spreading its message of sharing by offering whatever help they can - are highly organized on the Web site http://shvil.wikia.com/wiki/INT-Trail-Angels, and can be the difference between getting stuck somewhere unpleasant or meeting someone from an entirely different background and cross-pollinating ideas, approaches, and information.
Why do they do it? For Noam Ben-Zvi of Alon Hagalil, who offers two private rooms and a drop-off on the trail the next morning, it's a way of paying back similar generosity he experienced while traveling by bike in Holland. "This kind of thing is much more organized there. There's a book, and you pay a small amount... but you get a room with a shower and breakfast. That's not the way it is here, but because I used it there, and it's a great idea, I decided to offer my rooms as a way of paying back what I got."
That included going out and picking up a recent guest who got lost trying to get to Ben-Zvi's place, even though he had a house full of other non-trail-related visitors already. "In the end, I found him another bed, and it was very nice," he recalls. "I think that it's important - I don't want to call it Zionism, but it's important for people to walk this trail. And if I can be of any help, then I'm happy to do so. Beyond that, I don't get anything out of it. I'm happy they're walking the trail, and if someone needs help, they're welcome."
For Yonatan and Michal Saldon of Harduf, inviting trekkers into their home allows them to fulfill the commandment of hospitality. And even though he rejected comparisons to Abraham's chasing after guests in biblical times, Yonatan still says having trekkers stay with them "is a big mitzva, to open your home to guests. This gives me a chance to fulfill this mitzva to the fullest. They come here, we talk. I hear stories. I offer them a place to sleep, a shower, water and food, depending on how many show up and what's in the fridge. Sometimes nine guys show up.
"They say that welcoming guests to your home is more important than studying Torah, and equal to keeping Shabbat. And whoever does so knows why he's doing it: The moment you make room in your home and room in your soul, you make room for all kinds of things to enter. That's what's important - not that we take up all the space, but also leave a little free for others."
Yonatan walked the trail himself "10-11 years ago, before it was a trail," and while he slept outside generally, he recognizes the current trekkers' needs and is glad to help. "I'm no angel, just trying to do a mitzva, and I have been blessed with people hiking near us and bringing them into our house. That's all."
For Ruth Dvir of Kfar Tavor, the idea of hosting trekkers started with "friends sending their children. Our son had done the trail, and we understood how important it is, and needed, and decided we would host anyone who has done army service - that's our condition.
"It's fun to meet these young people and give them something, spoil them a little. We meet wonderful people - I'm at a loss for words to describe the experience. We don't seek anything in return, and they're great kids. I feel like we're fulfilling a mitzva of hosting people in our home, and it gives me a good feeling."
One guest couldn't quite figure out his own good fortune. "We had an Indian fellow who stayed with us, and we left him alone in the house - we do that a lot," says Ruth. "He simply couldn't understand how we could do this. We have a big house with a pool, and he didn't understand how we could do it. But they are all an experience unto themselves. We are happy to be able to have something to share with them."