Yerushalayim is really a small town, and life brings people from disparate backgrounds together. Such was the case when I met Yehoshua, a chareidi scribe (sofer stam), a few years ago. He invited me for a Shabbos a number of weeks ago, where I got to know his family a little better, including his eight children.
Three things struck my attention. The first was the poverty. The family couldn’t afford meat for their Shabbos lunch meal. The main course was vegetarian cholent and chopped eggs with onions. The second thing I noticed was how well the kids bonded and took care of one another; they seemed pretty happy. The third thing I perceived was that one of the kids, Shloimie, had rotted teeth. You couldn’t help noticing it because he had such a beautiful smile and the face of a bright and sensitive child, and the decaying teeth marred it.
I gently brought the matter up with his father, who explained that the boy, who was a bit shy of 12 years of age (and more than a bit shy in life) literally panicked every time they brought him to the dentist. He had never gotten professional dental care in his entire life. I suggested a pediatric dentist I know who davened in the GRA shul in Shaarei Chesed, and the appointment there led to a second appointment with another dentist, who succeeded in helping Shloimie break his fear and get some teeth pulled out.
As a reward for his bravery, I offered to take him on a tiyul (outing) on Rosh Chodesh Kislev, when he only had to attend cheder that morning, and spoil him. I was probably more excited than he was, because I was finally going to have fun with someone my own age! (There’s a kernel of truth to that remark!) And I am always looking for an excuse to explore and enjoy nature in Israel.
I picked the young man up at 11:30 a.m. He was waiting eagerly on the street. I loaded his bike in the back of the station wagon, and we were off. Our destination: Park Ha-Tzavim, Turtle Park, off the Nachal Alexander, a river between Netanya and Chadera.
He was a bit fidgety and impatient in the car, for the trip took about an hour-and-a-half, but it was worth it. We traveled north on Kvish 6, got off at the exit for Netanya, and then traveled north on Route 4. At the third traffic light, we turned left onto Route 5720 towards Kfar Vitkin. The signs to the park were awful, but I knew where I was going. Driving down a narrow road alongside a major warehouse with some 18-wheelers coming the other way, we wiggled our way past them to the park. There were picnic tables, a scenic lookout tower, and the Alexander stream. As we came close to the stream, we encountered a group of Arab high school students on an organized school excursion. The Arabs greatly outnumbered the Jews in the park for the next half hour, and in the background of my mind were all the stabbings and car rammings that have been rocking the country over the past few weeks.
There were no incidents. We took a quick look at the soft shell turtles that surfaced near the edge of the riverbank. They were quite large and impressive and a delight to behold. We sat down to eat at a picnic table. I with my gourmet salad from a Shaarei Chesed salad bar, and he with his Bisli munchies, Shoko chocolate drink, and other assorted junk food. No wonder his teeth look the way they do, I told myself.
Then we took out the bikes from the car and started riding along the bike path that ran along the stream. The path, constructed recently, hugs the stream for a few kilometers, and is lined with grass, trees, bushes, and playgrounds. Tall bulrushes swayed with the breeze along the river bank. It’s a real joy. One stretch of the path was not paved, and Shlomie’s front tire got punctured. The bike excursion suddenly aborted, we straddled back to the parking lot and loaded the bikes into the car.
Now came Plan B. Instead of traveling east along the river, we were going to travel west – on foot – until we reached the end point of Nachal Alexander, the big blue Mediterranean Sea.
This part of the path that we were now on was one section of the official Israel National Trial, or Shvil Yisrael. The signs that mark the route of the trail featured its distinctive colors, orange, blue, and white. The trail begins at Tel Dan in the northern Galil near Lebanon and winds all the way down to Eilat in the south. I dream of traversing the whole trail, but like most people, it will be accomplished by taking on different segments at different times.
We exited Turtle Park and walked along the river, then passed under a railroad bridge. A train buzzed by, and Shloimie got all excited. For him this was a big deal. We turned right, away from the stream, and walked along an open area, bounded by fields on one side and the train tracks on the other. Then we turned left and entered a forest of Eucalyptus trees. The river “reappeared,” with the shady trees providing cover from the sun. There we were, two young guys at heart, walking along a river as it moseyed slowly towards the great sea. I felt like Huckleberry Finn with my chareidi buddy Tom Sawyer. The leaves rustled in the warm, fresh air. The tension of the past few weeks, melted away. Thank G-d.
The markers pointed us towards a hill, which was graced with a churva, an Arab ruin, which served as some kind of way station for a trade route that brought bananas, among other things, to Egypt.
After poking our heads through the openings that were once windows, we walked down the hill and continued along the river till we came to an underpass for the Kvish Hachof, Route 2. There we came across hundreds of tiny clam shells; we were nearly at the beach. Nachal Alexander started to narrow until it was reduced to a rivulet, and its waters eventually kissed the Mediterranean’s waters just a few meters from the seashore.
Shloimie looked at me for approval. He wanted to run and jump over the stream. I told him that he might ruin his shoes if he didn’t make it. He hesitated, then did what normal 12-year-olds do. He took off, landing with his shoes in the water just a few inches short of the edge.
We both stood in awe watching the autumn sun as it hovered over the sea’s waves. Shloimie made the requisite blessing – Oseh maaseh Breishis – as he hadn’t seen the Mediterranean for over 30 days. We gazed, breathed in the fresh sea breeze, observed the sea gulls, and then made our way back through the Eucalyptus forest and the park to the car.
Our next stop was Netanya. My Waze GPS navigated us to the street near the city’s boardwalk, where I parked the car. Just a block away, along the boardwalk, was a mehadrin dairy restaurant aptly named Mool Hayam (Opposite the Sea).
I knew that Shloimie wasn’t used to patronizing such “fancy” establishments, and that was part of his learning experience on this tiyul. I was hoping he would order something healthy, but I knew better. In any case, it was also his twelfth birthday, and he was king for the day. So I ordered – at his request – one pizza, one serving of fries, and a large scoop of ice cream topped with whipped cream and chocolate syrup: junk food but higher class than his Bisli. The kid was in seventh heaven. I ordered for myself Nile Perch and, admittedly a little jealous, every so often I snatched a few fries from him.
The restaurant overlooked the ocean. Shloimie was fascinated by the surfers and para-gliders. We saw them through the restaurant’s huge windows while we were eating. Then we enjoyed the sunset and the orange colors that draped the ocean.
It was now dark. Since we were in the center of town, I wanted to spend a few minutes there before we headed home. We walked to a large plaza with a very unusual fountain. There were colored lights on the ground, and at various intervals, water would shoot up from them. It was Israel’s hi-tech version of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geyser. There was a method to all the shpritzing, and Shloimie darted from light to light, trying to outmaneuver the fountain before the water shot up. It was a lot of fun watching him; I could see he was having a good time.
It was the perfect end of a perfect day. The ride home involved traffic tie-ups on the way back to Kvish 6. Shloimie, his energy spent, fell asleep for most of the ride. We got back, and the young man gave me a smile (his teeth looked a bit better), and I was on my way home.
It’s quite possible that Shloimie will have forgotten the whole adventure by now, but I am thankful that I won’t. And I am grateful that this little fellow helped me feel young again for a few hours on that unseasonably warm, sunny day at Nachal Alexander.
Nahariya and Rosh Hanikra
I wasn’t finished yet. The beautiful, unseasonably warm weather wouldn’t last forever, and I was determined not to let an opportunity for biking slip away. I heard that there was a bike route from Nahariya, a town in the northern Galil, to Rosh Hanikra, so I checked it out on the internet.
This time I went alone. I once again packed my bike into the back of the station wagon and off I went. This was going to take at least two hours – assuming there were no traffic tie-ups and no pit stops along the way. Highway 6 to Route 70 all the way past Haifa, then Route 4 to the new Route 22 bypass road to Akko. Then a left at a traffic circle, and I found myself in the business district of the Mediterranean coastal town of Nahariya.
It’s just a few blocks to the coastal road, where I turned left and then parked in the public parking lot off the beach, just before you get to the Divers’ Club.
The summer sun had a soft, warm glow, like a soft light bulb, which gave the area a warm hue – not like the harsh glare of the summer sun. I whipped out the bike and rode down the street two blocks. I saw the bike path on the left. The bike path is wide enough for cars, and occasionally I needed to move to the side. It’s also an official part of the Shvil Yisrael, the Israel Trail.
The seacoast is stunning. Here and there are tiny inlets. The waves smash against the rocks on the outer perimeter, but the water inside the inlet is calm. Here and there, I spotted a fisherman with his line stretched out into the waters. On another deserted spot I saw a man watching the waters with his dog. There were no bathers, because the beaches are not for swimming. If you love to bike along the coast and modesty is important, then the Nahariya option beats the tayelet (boardwalk) of Tel Aviv hands down.
The distance from northern Nahariya to Rosh Hanikra, right near the Lebanese border, is 10 kilometers. On the way, I passed Achziv harbor and park. Beautiful. The ride is on flat terrain. It was easy on the legs and exhilarating for the senses because of the views. As I neared Rosh Hanikra, I came across a group of Arab teenagers on an outing. I felt my stomach tighten, as this had been another week of stabbings and murders. Ezra Schwartz, a”h, the American yeshiva student who was a big Patriots fan, and Hadar Buchris, just 21 years old – both murdered in Gush Etzion – were on my mind.
I could see that these kids were part of an organized bike outing. The bikes were rented from a company in Rosh Hanikra. One of the girls, who was wearing a scarf on her head out of modesty, though like other Arabs also wore pants, called out to me and said “shalom.” Her tone of voice sounded sincere and friendly. Two minutes later, a boy – maybe 15 or 16 years old – rode his bike towards mine and then swerved away at the last minute, just to scare me.
Now, if Jews were knifing Arab children and elderly people, I would personally feel ashamed, especially if I were among Arabs. Not only did this kid not have any shame, he had the gall to start up with a total stranger who was over three times his age.
I passed a man in an electric cart who was supervising the event (he was from the bike rental company) and told him about it. He asked me if there was any physical damage. When I replied that there was none, he stated that this particular group of kids was poorly behaved.
I rode back to my car and typed on my Waze “bet knesset” to find a minyan for Mincha. The nearest one was listed as Hamercaz Harefui Lagalil. I thought it would be a small building in Nahariya with a few medical offices. I was wrong. It turned out to be a 700-bed hospital serving the western Galil.
After passing though security, I noticed something interesting. This was the first time I was in an Israeli hospital where the clear majority of patients were Arabs. I felt like a member of a minority in my own country.
To get to the synagogue, one had to pass through a long corridor. There were two glass “tunnels” in the corridor itself. They were what’s called a cheder magen, fortified room, against bombs. Nahariya has had more than its share of rockets from Hezbollah, just north of the border. How ironic, I thought to myself, that the Arabs have to be protected from the rockets of that Lebanese terrorist organization (which Russia just claimed is not a terrorist entity!).
I was expecting a lot of people in the shul, as it was getting close to sunset. There were only two men reciting tehilim. They told me there would be no minyan. I was used to the scene in Shaarei Zedek or Hadassah. I couldn’t believe that there would be no minyan is such a large hospital. I finished Mincha, and just before I was ready to leave, a frum man in a medical uniform walked in. It turns out that he was a doctor, the head of the radiology department. When I mentioned how many Arabs were here, he told me that the powers-that-be decided to hire an Arab to head the hospital, and this Arab had an agenda. Most of the new doctors being hired were Arabs!
He also told me that the relationship between the Jewish and Arab doctors was good, even though they don’t see eye to eye politically. And one thing all the new doctors seem to have in common – whether Jew or gentile – is that they are very condescending towards their patients.
This tiyul, unlike the previous one with Shloimie, was a little jarring. Jonathan Rosenblum, a columnist for the Jerusalem Post and Mishpacha, wrote that an Arab who once worked in his neighborhood put it this way: “I know that this is my country, because I and my fellow Arabs can go anywhere we want without being afraid. But that is not the case for you Jews.”
You could say that the same is true of criminals and juvenile delinquents