As a child, my entire notion of Israel came from two Hebrew teachers in New Orleans. Israel was the land of carob and falafel, the land of dates and figs. In school, we sang songs about Be’er Sheva and Tel Aviv, with no comprehension of the places these names represented.
My understanding of Israel has come a long way since those childhood days. Over the years, I learned that the Jewish people and Israel are connected, that the infancy of our nation occurred in this sacred land. Of course, moving here opened up my eyes to the place that Israel has now become: a modern-day refuge for the Jewish people, a country on the cutting edge of technology and medicine, a functioning democratic society in the Middle East.
But it wasn’t until I started exploring the Land of Israel by foot that I gained a better understanding of Israel’s past, present, and future.
Hiking along the trails through the countryside, one can see layers upon layers of history. Exploring outdoors is like opening up a well written historical novel. At Nahal HaMearot and Tel Gezer, you can see remnants of the past, from pre-history through pagan times. Walk over Tel Azeka to revisit a place where King Saul battled the Philistines. Even Ein Gedi has its own connection to the past: Nahal Arugot is where King David saved his own life by hiding in a cave.
It’s not only the ruins that bring the stories of history to life. Even the animals, plants, trees, and rivers open our eyes to a better understanding of what’s written in the Bible. Rock hyraxes, a biblical animal unfamiliar to outsiders, can be found on any cliff or canyon pathway in Israel. And then there’s the ibex, Yael in Hebrew, like the heroine in the story of the murder of Sisera.
When you see the past come alive before your eyes, present and future take on new meaning. Israel isn’t just falafel and carob. It’s not even just a home for the Jewish people.
Israel is a country of worldwide importance, whose rich history and successful present predict a better future. Not only in fairy tales will four river flow towards Jerusalem. Nations gathering in the Land is not a mythical prophecy.
This Land is a land that has been rebuilt from the ashes of a hundred destructions, to become a place where nature and society realize an ancient vision: that Israel will be the Land where nations gather, a Land flowing with milk and honey. The promised Land.
Exploring Israel helps us recognize that the fulfillment of an ancient promise is only at its very beginning.