The Benedictine monastery of Latrun is a magnificent structure of beige stone and tile roofs topping a hill that guards the entrance to the road to Jerusalem—Sha’ar ha-Gai in Hebrew, Bab el-Wad in Arabic—the gate to the valley. The two names of this entry point reflect the Israeli-Arab struggle in recent years to maintain control of this main route to Jerusalem. Now, of course, since 1967, it is in Israeli hands and Route One from Tel Aviv streams along nearby, not exactly peacefully but with any violence and discord limited to the purely domestic. We approach Latrun from the south, after flanking the congestion of rush-hour Tel Aviv, Rishon le-Tzion, and Ramla.
Latrun is actually a small detour of 3-4 miles off our route, where we’re scheduled to meet with Sandy Shoshani, head of Be’ad Chaim, an Israeli pro-life association (www.beadchaim.com), which has a memorial garden there, Ganei Chaim, the Gardens of Life. Be’ad Chaim fights against abortion by helping mothers, and sometimes couples, be able to afford having a child. Israel’s abortion rate is scandalously high, and linked to a poverty rate that is also scandalously high. We know about poverty in Israel, but we’re still surprised to hear the statistics that Sandy share, as we’ve been riding through a land that appears to be prosperous and thriving on every side. Our biggest challenge (after some of the hills) is the traffic we encounter everywhere, often compounded by road construction projects—a sign of Israel’s prosperity. But there is undeniable poverty and it helps fuel an abortion rate that terminates one pregnancy out of five. To help combat this, Be’ad Chaim seeks to provide all the extra equipment and supplies—extra expenses—that a baby will need for the first year of life.
The ministry also emphasizes healing and restoration for women, and sometimes men as well, who have undergone abortion, and the garden, Ganei Chaim, is a place of healing and peace. Hundreds of trees have been planted in memory of unborn children. Women receive prayer for forgiveness and healing amidst the olive and carob trees. A cordon of cypress trees is filling out the outside parameter of the garden as more and more are being planted in memory of the unborn. In the midst of this tragedy of modern Israel—one of the reasons we are riding and praying for the restoration of all Israel from Dan to Beer-Sheva—is a refuge of peace.
We pray with Sandy, share some tzedaka, have a snack, and get back on the bikes. It strikes me as we ride off down the broad shoulder of Highway 3 that this refuge is located at the strategic center point of the whole country, guarding the way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is also the midway point between north and south.
We continue our ride through the hill country of Judah, flanking the broad Valley of Elah where David downed Goliath. Today it is green and filled with crops, the roadway lined with golden mustard, red poppies, and swaying wisps of ryegrass and wild thistles. As climb further into this country, the land opens up even more, with rolling hills and broad pastures wide before us. As we approach Kibbutz Gal’on, our destination for the night, we’re exhausted after 70 miles of hilly riding, but charged up by the view and the realization that our final goal, Beer-Sheva, is now less than 50 miles away.