It has been a few more days of desert hiking, and some highlights have been meeting more hikers, joining a large group of 70ish year olds for Shabbat, and spending a day off at an incredibly unique place.
One morning we met two Danish guys, both 20 like me. They had just started the trail, and I stuck with them because Noam was taking a day off. We have hiked together since then, until I took a day off at Kibbutz Ne’ot Samadar.
The first night with the Danes, we stayed in a large tent at Kibbutz Elifaz, and the only other people there were 30 or so Israelis, who looked to be 70 or so on average. It turned out they were a group of old friends who did hiking trips once a month around Israel. Most of them were all originally from the same town, but the group had changed a bit in the 25ish years it had existed, as new members were added. To join you need to be referred by a current member, so it isn’t completely open. It was Friday night and they were preparing a Shabbat dinner, and they gladly invited us. Since they traveled in a bus, there was no concern about how much or what food to bring, and they really didn’t skimp on anything. Almost everything was homemade and/or fresh- soup, challah bread, salad, rice, cake, and more.
Two nights ago we arrived at another kibbutz, called Ne’ot Samadar. They host hikers for free, and you can eat with them and “camp” in the kindergarten building. It is also encouraged but not required to stay there and volunteer for a day or more. I decided to do this, while the Danes kept hiking. However they also enjoyed a unique dining experience, and a trip with me to the top of a really cool tower (picture below).
The day started at 5:30, when “morning meeting” happens. Everyone working that day heads to the dining room. You enter, and take a seat. No lights, no talking, no anything. There is coffee and tea, and you sit there for 20 minutes or so. Then someone in charge says “boker tov” (good morning) and the day begins. My first shift was agriculture, so for the next two hours I worked to spread compost around apple, pear, and lemon trees. Oh and guess who showed up- the German couple. You’ll have to read the last post to hear about them, but they finished the trail and had come back to volunteer. At 8:00 we stopped and went to breakfast. Everyone files in and you sit at the next empty seat. It doesn’t matter who you are or who you see or know. You just sit and start eating. Nobody talks, and as a result the meals go quite fast. If you need more of something brought to your area, you raise a hand and one of the people on kitchen duty comes to help. This style of dining was really strange to me because at college, I feel like it’s the opposite. Meals are a time to relax, talk to friends, and take a break from all the other tasks and responsibilities of the day. Anyways, after breakfast I was assigned to gardening. I pulled weeds, turned soil, and cut onions and cabbages out of the ground for the kitchen.
During the agriculture and gardening work, I was mostly with people who were staying there to learn about agriculture and perhaps pursue a career in it. Before lunch, they had a discussion (they do every day) and they welcomed me and the Germans to join. The topic was faith. Not really in the standard religious sense (although of course the Germans brought Yeshua into it, earning a scolding from the leader, who asked for more “personal” points), but more about faith that you can accomplish a given task or goal. I didn’t end up talking, because by the time the guy translating for us had explained the latest point, the topic had slightly changed. It was still interesting to hear all the ideas going around though. Then we had lunch (silent obviously), and a meeting for everyone on the kibbutz, which was about 80-90 people. I didn’t understand any of it, except when the leader switched to English and asked me to introduce myself to the group and tell them something. I decided to thank the kibbutz for their hospitality toward hikers, and I told them how trail angels have been my favorite and most meaningful part of the trip. I explained how it blew my mind that in a world, a region, and a country where all you hear about on the news is violence and fear, suddenly I, as a total stranger, was being welcomed into homes and kibbutzes like a best friend. By the end of my one minute speech at least one woman was crying.
I then had a break and finally, a three hour shift at the kibbutz’s store/restaurant a mile down the road. I helped clean the kitchen and bathrooms, as well as perform other jobs for the closing shift. Also, Noam, the hiker I had started the desert with, showed up. He is now staying at least a day to volunteer, while I keep hiking.The highlight of the restaurant shift was definitely getting the leftover cake. That, and for the first time ever I had goat milk soft serve ice cream. The kibbutz has plenty of goats but no cows, so all the dairy products are goat milk based. I thoroughly enjoyed the ice cream, and after the shift was over returned for a (silent) dinner. Afterwards I sat outside, made friends with a cat, and had a long discussion with a young man who was in the agriculture program but had hiked the trail a few years before.
I hope to catch up with the Danes within the next two days, and continue heading north at a good pace.