Stepping out together

After a four-decade hiatus, an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem is being reinstated.

"The walk is a resurrection of an event" (photo credit: Courtesy)
"The walk is a resurrection of an event"
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If Brig.-Gen (res.) Ram Shmueli has his way, everyone in this country will be walking, playing, dancing and talking together before too long.
And we’re not talking about Skyping, tweeting or texting; this is all about getting out into the fresh country air and hoofing it through the Jerusalem Hills together for two days.
The trek in question will take place next week and goes by the name of Mit’habrim Baderech Liyerushalayim (Connecting on the Way to Jerusalem). It will kick off at Moshav Shoresh and end up at Mount Herzl, with an overnight stop at Mount Eitan in the Jerusalem Hills. The walkers will cover 14 km. on the first day and 11 km. on the second.
The walk is, in fact, a resurrection of an event that took place annually between 1958 and 1972. This year, the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War – which was one of the reasons for the end to that walk – offers a neat chronological juncture to get the new-old venture under way. But according to Shmueli, who is masterminding the initiative, it marks other milestones, too.
“If you look back in history you see that 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people came back to its homeland and began doing aliya laregel [pilgrimages to Jerusalem].
Those were walks of three or four days.
Then the young State of Israel renewed the custom, from 1958 to 1972, and the walks also took three to four days.
It [actually] didn’t take place in 1972 because of rain, nor in 1973, because of the war.”
But the curtailment wasn’t just because of the hostilities and the fact that so many people were on active military duty at the time. Shmueli – a former fighter pilot who ended his 30-year military career as head of intelligence for the IAF – says that the Yom Kippur War put an end to a general sense of unity.
“The country was terribly divided because of that war. There were all sorts of groups and camps, each with a different opinion. There was a deep rift here back then. Ever since, we have been going through a process of reconciliation, of looking for a true connection, and for common ground in Israeli society. Sadly there are more and more things that seem to divide us.”
Shmueli says his own professional background was once a good vehicle for bringing youngsters from disparate backgrounds together, but that it is becoming increasingly less relevant.
“Today, less than 50 percent of us serve in the army, which was once the great melting pot of Israeli society,” he says. “It is still a melting pot, but for far fewer of us.”
He adds that education is also now less efficient at providing a constructive meeting point for children and youth from different social, religious and political backgrounds. “The education system is becoming increasingly fragmented. There are all sorts of movements and subgroups within education today, and this is a dangerous process of separation due to the differences between us. We aim to create unity, but not uniformity.”
The walk feeds off the umbrella organization Mit’habrim – Bonim Atid Beyahad (Connecting – Building a Future Together) and the Israeli Regional Councils Center. Shmueli says that this year the event will be limited to 5,000 participants, and he is close to achieving that number.
“We’ll see how it goes this year, but the idea is to increase the capacity significantly next year,” he explains.
The walkers will set off from a parking lot near Moshav Shoresh at 8 a.m. on September 23 and make their way along a path to Mount Eitan, stopping off at succot located at vantage points en route.
It is estimated that the participants will make it to the overnight stopover spot sometime between 4 and 6 p.m., when supper will be served and there will be various activities.
Shmueli and his fellow organizers have called in some top-class names for the evening’s entertainment: After the meal, the walkers and visitors will be able to settle down for a show courtesy of veteran singer-songwriter Shlomi Shabat, former A Star Is Born talent show competitor Idan Amedi and rocker Mosh Ben-Ari. The performance, which starts at 9 p.m., will also be open to 1,000 Jerusalemites, who can get to Mount Eitan via buses that Mit’habrim Baderech Liyerushalayim is arranging.
“The buses will leave Binyenei Ha’uma [the Jerusalem International Convention Center] at 7 p.m., for the first 1,000 people who make it there,” explains Shmueli. “It’s on a first-come, first-served basis, and only for Jerusalemites.”
The buses will return the visitors to the capital around midnight.
Shmueli believes the Mount Eitan campers will get a lot more out of the stopover than just good entertainment and tasty food, however.
“The fact that we will all be there, regardless of social background, cultural baggage or religious or political views – all of us together camping, talking, sleeping and eating together – that provides an excellent opportunity for bonding. You know, Jerusalem is considered one of the most divisive topics in Israel, but I believe that the fact that we all see Jerusalem in a different light should actually unify us.”
The cross-sector theme is a recurrent component of the two-day enterprise.
“There will be succot along the way, with [hosts who are] haredi people, young people, disabled people and others, where the walkers can stop off and talk to them... about different things and learn about and from each other,” Shmueli says, adding that the walkers will also pass through the Arab village of Ein Rafa.
“Of course, the Arabs don’t celebrate Succot, and there will be a tent there instead of a succa,” he says. “There will be over 400 young Arabs on the walk, as well as Arab families and Druse. We will all be together, walking through nature, connecting with nature and with each other. We will be able to take a look at the variety and differences in Israeli society and find common denominators.”
On the second day, the group will set off from Mount Eitan around 8 a.m.
– following a hearty breakfast – and is expected to get to Jerusalem around 1 p.m. The walkers will split up into groups and spend a couple of hours visiting community centers and enjoying the hospitality of local residents in neighborhoods such as Ein Kerem and Bayit Vagan. There will also be a closing assembly and event at Mount Herzl.
“We will get together and form a heart shape, which will be photographed from the air, and the picture will be put on the Internet,” says Shmueli. “We will also sit down together in the forest next to Mount Herzl and talk about how the walk went, and see how we can change and improve things for next year.”
The walk, he says, “is all about being together and connecting, not in a virtual way, but in a physically tangible way. I am all for making connections through technological means, too, but it is also very important to physically get together. I am sure it will be a wonderful bonding experience for us all.”
For more information about Mit’habrim Baderech Liyerushalayim: