Hiking the Holy Land

Today, Uri Goldflam may be the last sabra standing. Tall and tan with salt-and-pepper hair, the director of external relations and development at SPNI, is what Exodus’ Ari Ben Canaan might have looked like, before Paul Newman became his embodiment. Born in Israel but raised in North Miami Beach, Goldflam started out 17 years ago as a tour guide for Young Judaea. He is concerned about Israelis growing distant from nature. “Today you can’t just go to plow a field or work in a kibbutz anymore,” he says. “A generation of children are spending most of their time in front of the computer,” Goldflam continues. “As Israelis embrace universalism, many are moving away from local patriotism and are less connected to the land.”

He believes that the Israel National Trail can return Israelis to their roots. He is not alone. In his latest novel, To the End of the Land, Israeli author David Grossman explores the complicated relationship that Ora, the mother of an Israeli soldier, has with the land of Israel. Ora flees Jerusalem to the Galilee to hike, in order to be out of reach of possible bad news about her son. Her refuge is the Israel National Trail.

To research the novel, Grossman, who himself lost a son in 2006 during the Second Lebanon War, spent five weeks hiking the trail. “I’d started to feel detached from the government, the occupation, the vulgarity, but also I’d become detached from things I loved deeply as a child,” Grossman said in a 2009 Newsweek interview. “I did it to renew the bond between me and this land, a bond that had been violated.”

Hiking along the beach in Caesarea, located between Tel Aviv and Haifa, I watch the sun slowly set, mellowing the white-hot heat. In the background loom the well preserved remains of the great stone aqueducts constructed by Herod in the first century BCE and expanded by the Romans in 2 CE. Arab and Jewish children play, not together but side-by-side, while their parents prepare for the journey home. Swimmers emerge from the water, climbing over a rock marked with the tell-tale white, blue and orange stripes. Tomorrow will be a few degrees cooler, they say, and another 600 miles await.

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