To backtrack a bit, we left Latrun a couple of days ago after our visit with Sandy Shoshani at Ganei Chaim and headed back toward the south, taking Highway 3 and its wide shoulder about 20 kilometers before turning off again to the east toward the hills of Judah (or perhaps it’s the upper Shephelah, as I’m learning). We passed through small towns and farmlands, orchards and vineyards, fields of wheat and barley–K’far Menakhem, Gefen, Tirosh.
Lots of folk tend to think of a north-to-south journey as going downhill. When I described our journey from Dan in the north to Beer-Sheva in the south, several people said, “Well, at least it’ll be downhill,” but of course that isn’t how it goes.
Beer-Sheva is higher in elevation than Dan, and there are many mighty climbs in between. So on this leg of the journey the ride grows hillier, and the next day will be even more so. But after 60 miles or so, we do get our reward as we take the road toward Gal’on, our destination for the night, which is mostly downhill. It’s a kibbutz sitting upon a ridge that looks out over hills rolling down to the Mediterranean, golden in the setting sun as we approach.
The 70-mile ride with our long break at Latrun didn’t leave much extra time for prayer and contemplation, but I’m seeing more and more that the whole ride is prayer and contemplation, our wheels on the pavement tracing a line of prayer from Dan to Beer-Sheva for all Israel. The route tying together the whole land is a prayer tying together all its people, a prayer that can only be fulfilled through the coming of Messiah. It’s clear in the writings of the Prophets that the God of Israel desires the wholeness and unity of his people. Last month all our children and grandchildren came to visit us. Jane and I felt deep joy and satisfaction as we sat around the table on Erev Shabbat and saw our whole family sitting right there around us. We got to recite the blessing in person that we recite over all our children and grandchildren almost every Friday night, even though most of them normally aren’t there. It’s a hint and foretaste of the fullness of heart that Messiah experiences as he brings together all his people, all Israel from Dan to Beer-Sheva, and all those from the nations that call upon his name. We’ll be praying for that reality the rest of our lives.
From Kibbutz Galon we have only 45 more miles and we’ll save the last ten, and a final inspiring visit with a local humanitarian effort, for the last day. In between, we have a hilly and spectacular ride that I mentioned in my earlier post, past the ancient sites of Maresha, Beit Guvrin, and Lachish, and up to the border of the Palestinian territories. There the road reminds me of the high plains of New Mexico, which I’ve ridden on the Santa Fe Century–open, rolling country bathed in light. The high ridge of Hebron to our left and the descent into the Negev straight ahead and to the right, as the lush green gradually fades into more muted tones of the desert spring.
To reach our goal for the night, Kibbutz Kramim, we have one final hill to climb and we repeat our joke–if you’re not sure which way to turn, just go uphill and you’ll be on the right path. There’s a truth behind the joke because we’re usually staying at kibbutz guesthouses, and kibbutzes generally began as armed outposts as well as communal farming villages. They’re on the top of the hill for not just for the lovely views, but to ensure their security in case of attack.
The next morning from Kramim is an easy ride down toward the modern city of Beer-Sheva, past those pale green Negev hills with flocks of sheep, and an occasional clump of camels, grazing in the cool of the morning. We turn into the town of Omer–a surprisingly pleasant community with abundant bushes and palm trees–for our final prayer-and-tzedaka stop. We’re welcomed into a home on a quiet street with abundant refreshments, and Katya tells us about the outreach to single mothers and orphans, as well as youth in general, which is centered here and serves the whole southern region, with Beer-Sheva as its major city. After we pray together and leave an offering for this work, Yuri leads us in his car through the streets of Omer, until we see Tel Beer-Sheva just a mile or so down the hill.