Off the Beaten Track: Ruth, Shavuot & the Sataf Springs

A new column: Travel expert Joe Yudin introduces "the road less travelled" as well as some new discoveries at more well-known sites.

Botany and Birds 250 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Botany and Birds 250
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours of Israel.
There is no better way to experience the Land, the people and the Book of Israel than by seeing it with your feet. You can study the Bible and read through its pages in your home, school or house of worship, but you cannot understand it completely unless you go out to where it all happened and use all five of your senses with your Bible at the ready.
This week is a terrific week to be touring Israel with the biblical stories in mind as Shavuot is right around the corner.
While hiking the many trails that criss-cross Israel this time of year, one cannot escape the biblical story of the Moabite Ruth, who after losing her husband, and helping her mother in-law Naomi return to the land of her tribesman in Judah, gleans the wheat “fallen” from Boaz’s cart during the Shavuot wheat harvest. Boaz apparently took a liking to Ruth and “dropped” vast amounts of wheat off the cart which the Torah commands must be left for the poor to reap. Returning to Naomi with all the wheat Ruth is instructed by Naomi to pamper Boaz while keeping her virtuous ways, and Boaz takes her from the fields to be his wife. Of course a celebration ensues.
From the peak of Mt. Eitan I gaze over the Judean Mountains where stately Jerusalem crowns the highest hilltops. The white clouds gently float over the heavenly city, barely moving. Only by taking the time to sit and stare in awe over this picturesque setting do I realize that yes the clouds are moving across the heavens. I look down at the ancients fields once inhabited by my forefathers and I can see Ruth, gently washing the feet of Boaz after a long day at work in the fields and I know that their union will produce the royal line of the House of David. And as I begin to hike down the mountain, I smell the fennel, feel the ancient olive trunks and hear the faint laughter of children splashing in the springs and I too wonder when God’s promise of a messianic age through David by way of Ruth will materialize.
The Hebrew Bible calls Shavuot the “Festival of Reaping” and the “Day of the First Fruits”. Even though this is mentioned in the Bible, these names reveal Shavuot’s more traditional roots. Here in the Land of Israel early June brings with a warming of the cool spring air and a ripening of the first fruits, wheat and barley. The mulberries turn from a tart bright red to a sweet dark black, and the apples go from green to red and the greenish wheat to a golden brown. The tractors come into the fields and the Kibbutznicks and Moshavnicks, often accompanied these days by Thai workers, head into the fields to pick the fruit and reap the grain.
This Shavuot, hike Mt. Eitan and the ruins of Sataf overlooking the Sorek Valley. Remains of this settlement date back to the Chalcolitic period, but it was inhabited in turn by Canaanites, Israelites, Jews of the Hellenistic and Roman times as well as Byzantines, Mamlukes and Arabs.
From Jerusalem take Route 386 west through the beautiful village of Ein Kerem and at the circle at Ein Kerem Junction take Route 395 west to Mt. Eitan Junction and follow the signs to the Sataf Springs. There is a huge parking lot in front of a large wooden building that houses a JNF information booth and a terrific café with incredible views of Hadassah Hospital, the Sorek Valley, the Mountains of Judea and the village of Ein Kerem.
Check out the map and beyond the café you’ll find trail markers and signs leading down the mountain to the Sataf Springs as well as a wide variety of other trails. Notice the ancient terraces that have been refurbished and reused over the millennia. All along the trail you will see a wide variety of crops, some still tended with some growing wild amongst the ancient terraces. Wheat, barley, oats, grape, olive, almond, fennel, mustard, walnut, mulberry fig, sage, hyssop and many other species can be smelled, tasted and enjoyed on the way down to the water system built during the Hellenistic period in the 2nd century.
The villages burrowed out several tunnels to catch the rainwater seeping through the limestone rock and channel it out into giant “water towers” which allowed pressure to build and the water to be channeled through out the terraces at will and all year round. Explore the tunnels, enjoy the water and check out the locals swimming in the pools under the “Swimming Forbidden” signs. Bring shoes for walking in the water, hats and flashlights.
Joe Yudin became a licensed tour guide in 1999. He completed his Master’s degree at the University of Haifa in the Land of Israel Studies and is currently studying toward a PhD.
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Shavuot is fast approaching, and as well as spending time with family and eating cheesecake, the festival is traditionally associated with the mitzva of “bikkurim” – to represent the time when farmers brought the first fruits to the Temple.

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