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My Trip to Israel,... 

March 2008


I recently returned from Israel after completing the First Annual Heschel Hazon Hike. I would like in this note to tell you about some of my experiences as well as some of the things I learned through participation in this event.

Prior to this trip I had never been in Israel during the month of March. Weather-wise Israel has its their own version of March Madness (that’s what they call it) in that the weather in March can be quite variable.  When I initially arrived, they were experiencing a heat wave (called a khamsin) with Jerusalem temperatures near 90F and over 100F in Tel-Aviv (where I also spent some time).  One week later the weather was noticeably cooler with a Jerusalem high of only 63F.

In the age-old Hamentashen / Latke debate I have always sided with the hamentashen and another first for me was being present in Israel during Purim.  I was in both Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv for the holiday and saw a variety of things that were holiday related. As expected, children dressed in all sorts of costumes, both traditional and otherwise. Some of the adults also walked around on the holiday in costume. In Tel-Aviv there was a very large street festival with lots of costumed family friendly entertainers everywhere.

More parochial to my interests were the hamentashen.  I rigorously researched this area and feel I now have a much better understanding of where Israel stands vis-à-vis hamentashen. There is good news and bad news to report.

The Israeli bake shops that I surveyed did not seem to have any apricot, raspberry or prune flavored hamentashen available.  On the other hand they all seemed to have ample supplies of hamentashen with chocolate fillings.  They also had a multiple of flavors that I had never seen in the US.  These include various fillings with pistachio, dates, and nuts. While it would be a tough choice to choose between a typical US or a typical Israeli assortment of hamentashen, I think I would have to favor the Israeli selection.  I heartily recommend doing your own careful research.

All of the participants in the hike arrived at a hotel in Maalot in time for dinner on Sunday, March 23. Thirty people had signed up to participate in this inaugural event.  They were almost all American born and came from all over the US with six of them now residing in Israel. For a long time NYC resident it was surprising to me that there was only one other participant who currently resided on the island of Manhattan.  We were a diverse group in many ways. For instance, our ages ranged from about 10 to 75, our history of visiting Israel varied greatly, and our hiking experiences and abilities also ranged greatly.

Early each morning we dropped our bags off to be transported to the place we would be spending the next night.  Sometimes together, and sometimes in separate groups we set off on our day's journey.  Some people chose shorter hiking options than others.  We regrouped at various points for snacks, buffet lunches as well as for educational and other reasons.

We started hiking the Israel Trail (a 600 mile trail that runs the entire length of Israel) on Monday morning at Nahal Dishon. The four days of hiking went very quickly and before we knew it we had hiked about 33 miles and were having a fancy farewell luncheon overlooking the Kinneret at Kibbutz Ginosour. The Heschel/Hazon staff had worked very hard to organize the event, they were always very well prepared and were exceptionally nice to everyone.
As you may know, each participant was responsible for raising a minimum amount of money ($3,600 in my case) in order to participate in the event. Seventy-five percent of the events profits were slated to go to the Heschel Center in Tel-Aviv with the rest going to Hazon in New York City. During the hike I came to know much more about these organizations that were to benefit from the profits from the event.

The key word for both of these groups is sustainability. Both groups do different things to promote sustainable and healthy life on our planet. Hazon’s vision is to create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community -- as a step towards a healthier and more sustainable world for all. The Heschel Center, Israel’s largest environmental organization, is dedicated to building a sustainable future for Israeli society - environmentally, socially and economically - through education and reflective activism. 

As this note is already too long and many people in the US have already heard about Hazon, I would like to tell you more about the Heschel Center. Israel is a bit behind the US in its environmental consciousness and is also in a more precarious place with not only in regards to security but also in available land, water and natural resources. One example of this is in regards to water pollution.  Many places in Israel still dump untreated sewage directly into natural waterways.  On a trip I took a few days after the hike ended I personally saw a strong flow of untreated sewage (from the city of Tiberius) from a very large pipe going directly into the Jordan River.  When the wind shifted against us we had an experience that we wouldn’t soon forget.

What is amazing to this American was how such a relatively small group of people have been able to have such a large impact on Israel in the relatively few years they’ve been around.  The Heschel Center, along with other environmental groups in Israel, have fairly small staffs when compared with their American equivalents. Through careful use of their funds and energies they have had a disproportionate effect. I was truly impressed.

In December 2007 when I signed up for this event I figured that I would only do it once since I naively thought that each subsequent year of the event would be the same.  As it turns out, the plan was for each years event to cover another section of the Israel Trail. Next years event (March 15-19, 2009) will continue on the Israel Trail going from the Kinneret where this years event ended to the Mediterranean. I am definitely considering it,…

For more information about the Heschel Hazon Hike BiShvil Yisrael click here: www.HikeIsrael.org

Copyright © 2008 Michael Brochstein. All rights reserved.