And of Asher he said, Most blessed of sons be Asher; May he be the favorite of his brothers, May he dip his foot in oil. May your doorbolts be iron and copper; And your security last all your days. -Deuteronomy 33:24-25
Having reduced the hike to one day, we chose a route that we hoped would be interesting, not too difficult or dangerous, and would end up at our home base in Karmiel (there is something satisfying about hiking to a real destination, rather than to some arbitrary pick-up point). We began at Charashim, a small Jewish community 25 years old, nestled 900 meters above sea level among the natural woods on the edge of Mt. Meiron nature reserve. This is near the eastern border of the land the tribe of Asher. The community got its name from the nearby ruin of Tel Charashim, where it seems there was an ancient ironworks (a charash is a metalworker) see Asher's blessing above. The breakfast committee served bread and cheese and vegetables on the cliff overlooking the Bet Hakerem Valley and the whole central Galilee spread out to our south. We would have had tea, but the cold wind was so severe that we couldn't keep our gas burner lit. As we tried to absorb a little warmth from the early morning sun, the committee drew our attention to the delicate wild narcissus flowers among the rocks, and led us in the study of various versions of the myth/folktale of Narcissus.
From Charashim we hiked along a dirt road through the rocks and scrub woods for about an hour to Har Chalutz. The most common tree here in the mountains is the Mediterranean oak, which has small oval leaves nothing like the oak leaves I grew up with but acorns that are obviously acorns, with thorny caps. Har Chalutz was founded 20 years ago by a group of Reform immigrants from North America, and defines itself as a Reform community. Today it has 70 families. Passing through on a weekday morning we didn't see a soul. Har Chalutz, like most of these rural Jewish settlements, is basically a bedroom community, with minimal industry or business. The adults leave every morning for work, and the kids are bused to a regional school, and only the day care center and a few self-employed adults populate the place during the day.
Another hour and a half along the ridge brought us to the place where we began our descent toward the Bet Hakerem Valley. We passed an unrecognized (i.e., unzoned and therefore unconnected to electricity, water, etc.) Bedouin camp made mostly of corrugated sheet metal, and then had to make way for a parade of heavy earthmoving equipment preparing the infrastructure for Lavon, a new Jewish community settlement being built nearby. The trail led us along the shoulder of a busy highway for about half an hour that seemed like forever, and finally we came to the head of Tzurim Cliffs, where the trail starts a steep climb, zigzagging down nearly 500 meters in the course of a kilometer. The view over the edge was both breathtaking and scary, but once we started down it seemed less daunting. Still, you wouldnt want to trip. At some point we lost the marked trail, and just followed goat paths down to a dirt road running through the olive groves that cover much of the valley floor (see Asher's blessing above). The road brought us into the Moslem village of Dir el Assad, and the [locally] famous humus joint in the middle of town, where we celebrated our arrival with a delicious late lunch of humus and salad and fries. After a meeting with a youth worker to learn something about the village, we completed the final stretch, across the valley to Karmiel.
And I remain convinced, more than ever, that what you see and learn when you walk the land you cannot see and learn in any other way.