Off The Beaten Track: The road up to Jerusalem

The road from Ben Gurion Airport up to Jerusalem is actually the perfect place to start a tour of Israel.

Tanks at Latrun (photo credit: Joe Yudin)
Tanks at Latrun
(photo credit: Joe Yudin)
Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours of Israel.
As I await the arrival of my tourists at Ben Gurion Airport, a planeload of olim hadashim arrives from North America and they come into the arrivals hall singing and dancing as they start their lives anew in Israel. Olim hadashim is loosely translated as "new immigrants" but the spiritual meaning of the words is lost in translation. The singular tense oleh hadash literally means "one who has newly gone up." The answer to why a new immigrant to Israel is called "one who has newly gone up" lies on the road to Jerusalem.
Picking up tourists at the airport and immediately launching into my guiding schpiel is a challenge both for me as a tour guide and the tourists who usually just got off a 12 hour plus flight. I always ask them if they want to start straight away with being guided or if they would rather relax at first. Nine times out of ten they opt to dive head first into the guiding. It seems that tourists traveling to Israel, unlike traveling to most other travel destinations, want to soak up as much knowledge here as they can.
The road from Ben Gurion Airport up to Jerusalem is actually the perfect place to start a tour of the Land of Israel.
Heading up towards Jerusalem at the top of a mountain range from the airport on the Coastal Plain usually gives new meaning to the term aliyah for the first time tourist. The term literally means “going up” and is usually applied by Diaspora Jews as the honor of going up and reading from the Torah at synagogue. An oleh as previously discussed comes from the same root word. The origin of the term in its many conjugations may date all the way to Genesis describing Abraham’s journeys in and out of the Land of Canaan.
The road to Jerusalem (Route 1) traveling southeast is fairly straight on a gentle incline with the mountains of Judea dominating the horizon to the east, the Mediterranean Sea and the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv disappearing to the west on the seaside. We enter the Ayalon Valley, a small stream, perhaps at one time a rushing river which passes beneath a roadside bridge and indeed in the winter the Ayalon River does seem more majestic flowing strongly after the rainstorms.
After the wanderings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Canaan (Israel), the children of Israel went down to Egypt whose descendants only returned after the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Joshua led them up into this Promised Land and an epic battle took place right here in the Valley of Ayalon.
The road begins to climb up as we leave the Coastal Plain and enter the Judean Lowlands. Going up to Jerusalem isn’t just a spiritual going up but a physical going up as well as the city lies at the top of the mountain range at the center of the country between Judea, Samaria to its south and north and the sea and desert to its west and east. To the immediate north lies Modiin, a new metropolis and Israel’s fastest growing city built over the ruins of the ancient home city of the Maccabean warriors who stood up to the Greek empire 2,200 years ago and fought for religious freedom.
Swaths of green surround the road as it winds up, climbing through the Judean Mountains. The forest that surrounds it seems ancient but almost every tree within eyesight has been planted by people, only within the last 100 years or so. Israel is indeed the only place in the world where the forests are growing and the desert is shrinking thanks to Jews and gentiles from all over the world who contribute to the Jewish National Fund to plant trees and start other environmental projects here in the Holy Land.
The road passes the monastery of Latrun near the spot where, according to the New Testament, Jesus appears to his disciples after the resurrection. Opposite the monastery is the War of Independence battlefield for a British police station, now the IDF Armored Brigade Memorial at Latrun, which is also the largest tank museum in the world and makes for a great one to two hour visit.
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.