Visiting the Patriarchs

Meet our biblical forefathers at Genesis Land in the Judean Desert.

Genesis Land 88 224 (photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
Genesis Land 88 224
(photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
In the heart of the Judean Desert, a tent encampment tucked in among undulating sandy hills offers a chance to experience what life was like in the area during biblical times. In almost magical surroundings, where the rising and setting sun dances on the Moab mountain range in the distance, visitors to Genesis Land (Eretz Bereshit) get a blast of the past when they enter the tent of Abraham and his dutiful servant Eliezer, portrayed by a couple of Israeli actors. Upon arrival at Genesis Land - located near the settlement of Alon, perched on a hill halfway between Jerusalem and Jericho - four-wheeled transportation is immediately traded in for a more traditional four-legged model with a hump. A rickety wooden sign nailed to a post at the entrance to Genesis Land reads: "Now the Lord said unto Abraham: 'Get thee out of… thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee'" (Genesis 12:1). "Eliezer" greets visitors, giving them a rundown of the main characters of the biblical story, which is familiar to most. But here, one feels that they're more than stories, especially as the surrounding terrain is almost unchanged since biblical times. Looking out across the ravines, one can almost see a camel train carrying goods along the famous Spice Route, which passed through the area. Eliezer, dressed in a striped robe secured at the waist with a piece of string and a white cloth around his head and sporting "biblical" sandals, chatters about the folks from way back then. One almost expects to run into Isaac courting Rebecca, or even witness Joseph being thrown unceremoniously down a pit by his brothers. After a great deal of hissing, our forefathers' vehicle of choice, led by a local handler (also clad in biblical garb), takes its rider down a narrow path to a flat, open area where two enormous Beduin-style tents are pitched. The view across the Judean Desert is breathtaking. The silence - deafening. Eliezer calls out to Abraham, his voice echoing off the surrounding hills and ravines. Emerging from his tent, wiping his eyes and stretching as if he has just been rudely wakened from his noon siesta, Abraham extends his arms, welcoming "the children of Israel" to his colorful, cushioned desert abode. "And when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself to the ground," (Genesis 18:2) another wooden sign reads, as this Abraham bows down. Metro happened to visit Genesis Land on the same day a group of 40 or so Ethiopian-born teens, some of whom had only been in Israel a few months, were there. The new immigrants were visiting with 10 Jewish teens from Manchester and Glasgow, who had been twinned with the Ethiopian residents of the Safed absorption center through a project of UJIA in Britain. Standing alongside Eliezer, a biblical-style robe thrown somewhat haphazardly over his IDF uniform, 21-year-old Shimon (Sinor) Belete - who made aliya in 2001 - translated the Hebrew and English spoken by Abraham and Eliezer into Amharic for the newcomers. Prior to making aliya, Belete lived with his parents and siblings for three years in a compound in Addis Ababa after the family had made a difficult trek from their far-flung village in the Gondar region. A student at the Ma'alot Hesder Yeshiva, Belete has for the past three years been a counselor for the Ethiopian olim in the UJIA twinning project. He helps them with their schoolwork, accompanies them on outings and assists their families wherever he can. "My aim is to help every child move forward to a successful absorption process, to be proud of who they are and where they have come from, but to also become proud Israelis," said the young man, robes flapping around his dusty army-issue boots. Eliezer and Abraham pour water from pottery jars over every visitor's hands before he or she enters the tent. After some words of explanation about quotidian life in biblical times, large round trays of food in earthenware dishes, with flat pita bread neatly folded and piled in the center, are placed before the guests, who sit cross-legged. Abraham (actor and tour guide Yehuda Dayag, who made aliya from Australia many years ago and sports an impressive white beard) chatted with Rabbi Micha Peled, National Coordinator of Religious Affairs for the Ethiopian Immigrant Community in Israel, who was also dressed in biblical-style clothing. They looked authentic in their robes, with the Judean Desert stretching behind them for miles. While the bearded figures spoke among themselves, the hungry youngsters tucked in to the meal, which exemplified the hospitality for which the biblical Abraham was famous. "And he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat" (Genesis 18:8). Genesis Land: (02) 997-4482 or e-mail: