I was feeling a little stuck. It was getting on for nearly two months since I had done the last section.
This next section of the trail, coming so close to the Kinneret, was in the hottest part of the country and we were now in the most difficult months of an Israeli summer.
I kept checking ahead for a cooler day in the weather forecast, but to no avail – it was dangerously hot for most hours of the day every day of August.
As September came around, another factor came into play. As our Covid-19 numbers began to creep back up, an extended second lockdown was likely to be announced any day. I felt a real need to make sure I did this section before the lockdown, otherwise, I really would have been stuck for many months.
It was still unbearably hot during the day in the area of Tiberias. So I decided to hike through the night…
I noticed that after Shabbat, there was a late bus that would get me (reasonably near) to the trailhead at about 2:15 am.
Taking note of the Hebrew date, though we were not in the middle of the month, we were close enough that the moon would give a certain amount of light – and indeed it was a beautifully clear night (you can see in the picture below the lights on the far side of the Kinneret).
And so as I alighted close to the shores of the Kinneret at a slightly surreal time, I was filled with a certain amount of adrenalin and trepidation.
I had no idea if this was a good idea. I didn’t know if I would sleep at any point, or be too tired to finish the section. And I knew that intense heat would begin at about 10 am. In the eerie darkness, I began to walk…
The first couple of kilometers was simply along a country road that reconnected me with the trail in the Amud riverbed (the distance for this section above is only measured from when I began the trail itself).
I had a small, but bright flashlight with me. I kept it permanently focused on the floor in front of me, but as the howling of the jackals in the fields around me intensified, I would often shine it off into the distance.
I wasn’t sure if that was a good tactic. Was it better to let them know I was here or should I have turned the torch off and become accustomed to the darkness and not notify them of my presence? I kept the torch on, though I would swivel every now and then to surprise any wild animals that might choose to creep up behind me… By the time I left the road and entered the trail itself I was fairly practiced in my tactic.
I knew from the map that the narrow riverbed would soon even out into wide flat-ish paths that allowed tractors to pass between cultivated fields.
I hoped also that this would take me away from the incessant howling, though I also noticed on the map that just before I entered the fields, I would pass the ‘cave of the skull’ – where one of the oldest human skulls in the world was found. I chose to keep up a good pace until I entered the fields…
I was grateful and relieved to reach ‘civilization’, and tried to rest or even sleep for a short while, near the houses that came close to the trail.
But my adrenalin was too high – and the mosquitos that settled down with me didn’t help – and I pushed on in the dark.
A few more fields and then as I passed through the Arab community of Wadi Hamam I saw the sky (finally) slowly beginning to change color.
The outline of the mosque, the call to prayer, and the beginning of movement in the village, brought a certain sense of relief – and also achievement. I’d made it through the night safely.
The main challenge in front of me now was ascending the Arbel mountain.
I rested for a while, enjoyed the strong flask of tea that I bring on every hike, but needed this time in particular, and as the light became a little stronger began what soon became a challenging ascent.
It’s not quite the ‘Masada of the Galil’ in its height – though indeed Jews did die on this mountain in battle (against other Jews…) – but the ascent is not easy.
In addition, unlike Masada, parts are ‘technical’, meaning that they are only passable with the help of climbing aids and handholds that have been placed in the rock to facilitate an ascent. I was pleased that I had been more sensible than I intended. The early light of the morning was a necessary safety element without which this ascent would have been too dangerous.
And then, just before 6:30 am, after four hours of hiking and no sleep, it became clear to me why all of this had been one of the best decisions I had made on the Israel Trail so far.
The peak of the Arbel affords one of the most wonderful views in Israel at whatever hour one is there.
But to be there as I passed through on a hike across the land, as the sun rose over the Golan Heights on the other side of the Kinneret was spectacular.
I was touched for a moment with a sense of Jewish timelessness as I was fortunate enough to remember having learned the following story from the Talmud:
“Rabbi Hiyah Rabbah and Rabbi Shimon Ben Halafta were walking in the Arbel Valley at the break of morning before the light of day. They watched the dawn as the light began to shine. Rabbi Hiyah, the great one in wisdom, said to Rabbi Halafta, ‘Rabbi, so too unfolds the Redemption of Israel – in the beginning, little by little. And the more it progresses, it increases and grows” (Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot, 1:1).
The inspiration for the unfolding of the process of the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people took place at exactly the moment of day in this very place two millennia ago.
An experience shared then by two hiking rabbis! And here I was in the modern state of Israel, walking through a land that we had established Jewish sovereignty in once again. Is this what they had in mind when those rabbis took that early morning walk all those years ago?
I was tired now. I hadn’t slept. And the heat was starting to set in already. I donned my tefillin, recited briefly the morning prayers, had a light breakfast, and decided to push through to the end of the hike.
There were still a good few kilometers of undulating terrain, but I had hiked this section before and knew what to expect.
In any case, it wasn’t going to beat the thrill and inspiration of the hours of the long and strange night and breaking dawn – that somehow seemed so long ago already.
As the view of Tiberias came into sight, I knew that it wouldn’t be too long until I reached the endpoint of this section of the trail in the neighborhood of Upper Tiberias.
In fact, the hike ends very conveniently at a bus stop with a direct bus back to Jerusalem. Shortly after 8:30 am I was on the bus, and not too long after that I was fast asleep…