Conquering the Israel Trail

Six people, including native-born Israelis and new and veteran olim, share about their experiences on the trail.

MOSS WITH tour guide husband Allan Rabinowitz, first day, Nahal Snir (photo credit: PAMELA SWEET)
MOSS WITH tour guide husband Allan Rabinowitz, first day, Nahal Snir
(photo credit: PAMELA SWEET)
Inspired by Tzippi Moss’s retelling of her journey hiking the Israel Trail, In Jerusalem spoke to six others, including native-born Israelis and new and veteran olim, about their experiences on the trail.
Two years after Jerusalem resident David Ben Moshe made aliyah in 2017, he started hiking the Israel Trail with his brother-in-law Ohad Maayan. The pair hikes one section a month and plans to finish sometime in 2024.
Ben Moshe is the head fitness coach at Magen Fitness, so it’s not a surprise the Israel Trail was a goal that excited him. “I heard about the trail and always wanted to do it! My brother-in-law has wanted to do it since high school and started twice, but never made it past the first two sections.
“Since we both have families, we figure once a month is a rate that we can keep up consistently. Plus, I drop my wife and child at their house, and the cousins get to spend more quality time together,” he said.
Ben Moshe recounted an amusing story of camaraderie on the trail. “I have a fancy water filter to use on natural water sources [that] I bought in America, and my brother-in-law always makes fun of me for bringing it, since we never use it.
ETTING STARTED early in the cold: David Ben Moshe (left) and Ohad Maayan. (Ohad Maayan)ETTING STARTED early in the cold: David Ben Moshe (left) and Ohad Maayan. (Ohad Maayan)
“One day, we ran out of water and still had 5 km. to go. We found a stream, and I was all excited because here was my chance to save the day.”
Just as Ben Moshe unscrewed the lid on the filter, “out of nowhere, an SUV that was off-roading pulled up, gave us four liters of water and drove off.”
His best advice? “The trick to reaching your goal is putting one foot in front of the other. When you are tired and it is overwhelming, look down and focus on the next step.”
To celebrate her 50th birthday, tour guide Esti Herskowitz and a friend undertook to hike the entire Israel Trail. It took Herskowitz several days a month over a period of 10 years to finish.
Although she’s lived in Israel since 1983, Herskowitz recounted a story that made her realize she will always be an immigrant.
“A father and son were doing the trail together. We met them climbing over logs in the Galilee. It was a Thursday, and we were heading home for Shabbat. They were on the trail for five weeks already and had another two or three to go. They weren’t going home, because they had relatives and friends all over country, and wherever they ended up, they called and got invited for Shabbat.”
On the last leg of her journey, Herskowitz had a particularly heartwarming experience.
“I was with a hiking group, and I was the only dati [Torah-observant] person in the group of 38. I was walking with three other women of different ages, and it was so eye-opening to walk with people from different sectors of life, with different perspectives.”
Herskowitz was scheduled to finish the trail in Eilat on a Friday.
“My husband was driving to Eilat to meet me and celebrate the culmination. But Shabbat in November is early, so in order to finish in time, I had to start walking at 6:15 a.m. All three women, who are not dati at all, started off early with me so that I wouldn’t have to walk alone.”
Herskowitz shared that all that time on the trail with her friend “helped solidify my understanding of the value of friends therapy. We walked and talked, and talked and talked, for hours and days, about her life, about mine, past, present, future and all the players involved. Very cathartic. And when you do it in nature, it has a value that is unquantifiable.”
Stopping to rest only on Shabbat, Maayan Hubara, who was born and raised in Israel, completed the entire trail over a period of two months. She hiked with Ilana Americus and Dafna Silberman, two close friends with whom she completed National Service.
“Being an Israeli and spending my whole life in this country, I felt it was my duty and obligation to really get to know it better. It was definitely a dream of mine for a while, and since my friends really wanted to do it too, they helped [both with] the motivation and to actually do it.”
Three weeks before the triad was scheduled to complete the trail, they met Ron Milotin, Ori Avrahami and Roi Branovski, who were also hiking as a group.
“We basically walked together until the end. We all became very close and, pretty quickly, it felt like we’d been friends forever.”
A year after finishing the Israel Trail together, the six keep in touch.
MAAYAN HUBARA (second from right) with friends Ori, Roi, Ron, Dafna and Ilana, arriving in Eilat on the last day and being greeted by their families. (Yair Greifner)MAAYAN HUBARA (second from right) with friends Ori, Roi, Ron, Dafna and Ilana, arriving in Eilat on the last day and being greeted by their families. (Yair Greifner)
One of their more memorable Angels of the Trail stories involved sleeping in the home of a couple who were rabid collectors.
“Their house was just filled with dolls and toys and just stuff. It was a bit of a creepy experience. They were nice but definitely a bit weird.
“We slept in their son’s bedroom, and he, too, liked collecting.”
Though the group found the stuffed tarantula and other bizarre items in the bedroom disturbing, “we were so tired, it didn’t take us long to fall asleep.”
Getting up every morning at 4 a.m. and coordinating with others, Hubara most values “not giving up, even though it’s hard. I almost did, not far from the end, but thanks to a lot of support, I didn’t quit.”
After four years of hiking the Israel Trail in sections, Shari Jablinowitz’s completion, scheduled for March 2020, was delayed until this past November, initially because of COVID-19 restrictions and later because of intense summer heat.
Jablinowitz reported being “very Yekkish about hiking every meter of the Israel Trail,” along with a group of friends from Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem.
“I was first inspired to hike the Israel Trail many years back after reading Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, but at that point, my kids were too young and I had too many responsibilities to be able to consider such a huge undertaking. I put it on my bucket list and didn’t think about it for many years.
“At some point, I began participating in Akim-Jerusalem’s annual fundraising trek. In May 2016, their three-day trek happened to be along the Israel Trail, and I decided this was a good opportunity to officially start this endeavor.”
Among her most memorable experiences was getting caught in an unexpected rain shower while hiking from Machtesh Ramon to Sapir.
“We weren’t prepared with rain gear, and there was no place in the open terrain to wait out the shower. We were cold and wet and kvetchy, but we merited to see the most beautiful sights: the dry desert landscape suddenly coming to life with waterfalls and streams forming in front of our eyes!
“These were the rivulets in arid land that we refer to in ‘Shir Hama’alot’ [Psalm 126] which we sing on Shabbat and holidays before Grace After Meals – and we were witnessing it! We wouldn’t have chosen to do this hike under these circumstances, if we had known in advance, but we were all glad, looking back, to have had this amazing experience!”
Although she and her group of friends completed the trail with a series of daily hikes instead of all in one go, their life experience proved useful to a much younger hiker.
“We met a young guy doing his post-army hike alone. [He was] in excellent shape and making better time than us, despite his large backpack. Though he was certainly friendly to us, who knows what he might have been thinking? Middle-aged hikers doing the Israel Trail in relative comfort, carrying only our small day-packs and going home to a warm, comfortable bed at night.
“But when it came to crossing the pools of water, we were more prepared. He was trying to keep his backpack dry by tying it to a pulley system of ropes that had been left by previous hikers, but it wasn’t working. Meanwhile, we were blowing up a plastic pool raft that we had brought for the purpose of transporting our knapsacks across the water. He was impressed at our ingenuity and appreciative that we enabled him to keep his backpack dry as well!”
Completing the Israel Trail taught Jablinowitz, who made aliyah in 1987, to take things “one step at a time. Don’t think about the goal initially, because it can be too overwhelming. Just enjoy yourself in the process, enjoy each day, each amazing view, each beautiful wildflower.”
HAPPY TRAILS (from left): Sandor Joffe, Deborah Lustig, Shari Jablinowitz, Sharona Shapiro and Aryeh Schwartzberg. (Shari Jablinowitz)HAPPY TRAILS (from left): Sandor Joffe, Deborah Lustig, Shari Jablinowitz, Sharona Shapiro and Aryeh Schwartzberg. (Shari Jablinowitz)
Paul Nirens completed the entire Trail between 2009 and 2016, along with two friends with whom he attended school five decades ago in Melbourne.
No significant event inspired the old friends to take on the Israel Trail.
“We had been walking together on one-day walks for many years, and it just seemed like the right thing for us,” he reported.
Nirens blogged about his experiences (shvil-yisrael.blogspot.com) and recalled with fondness “walking down the Gled Cliffs in a sudden, unpredicted rainstorm, with fountains of water sprouting out of the cliff face, not 30 meters from where we were walking. [That] was a sight and experience that I will always remember.”
His hiking group was particularly inspired by a couple they stayed with in Yeroham “who were part of [a] program where young couples move to development towns in order to bolster struggling communities. They were truly inspiring in their modern Zionist vision,” he reported.
Looking back, his principal takeaway was “that there is nothing more important or life-affirming than close friends. We are unfit, overweight, middle-aged Australians who found the hard legs of the trail truly challenging. But we did it all, together.”
Shortly after his aliyah in 2017, Phillip Stein completed seven segments of the Israel Trail along with an English-speaking hiking group led by Oren Sapir of the Sussiya Field School. His motivation? “I was taught that to love the land is to walk it and tour it. My neighbors in Ma’aleh Adumim encouraged me.
“Walking through the Land of Israel desert as a group was an absolutely biblical experience – thinking of how our people could have felt traveling on what have been aimless paths through the desert with no idea of what lay ahead,” he shared.
Stein recalled a particularly challenging hike near the Machtesh Katan in the Negev.
“The hike took much longer than anticipated, and all of us were either close to the end of our water or out of water. And the hike was endless, requiring climbing into and out of crevices between the rocks.”
Several kilometers from civilization, in an area with no cellphone reception and completely out of water, Stein and his group encountered men riding in a white jeep.
“What else do angels ride in?” he deadpanned.
“They provided us with lots of very warm bottled water to drink, and there were several more white jeeps just beyond them. They had met each of the groups as they came out of the mountain, providing them with water. And when the last group of men didn’t appear, several of them recrossed the craggy desert mountains, hills and crevices with rescue equipment and, most importantly, lanterns to extract our last two guys.”
These Angels of the Trail were “a large group of Pelephone line workers from the Galilee – the guys who climb high places to string wires. They were commemorating the first yahrzeit of one of their fellow workers who had taken his life the previous year.
“These men were truly angels sent by God to get us home,” Stein acknowledged.
Looking back, even though he didn’t finish the entire trail, Stein realized that his hiking experiences changed his relationship with the Land of Israel.
“What I really learned is that every roadside, every path, can be a rich walk. I look at the country with totally different eyes now. Sometimes I even feel like stopping my car, getting out and start walking into fields, forests and pathways.”