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Experiencing Shvil Yisrael: The Israeli National Trail

Backpacking on Shvil Yisrael.

When Moriya Rosenfield was serving her first year of Sherut Leumi in Eilat, she became aware that the Israeli National Trail “Shvil Yisrael” either began or concluded on the desert dunes outside of Eilat. Storing this information away in her “to do” mental file, she was determined to walk the Shvil at some point soon. After completing a second year of Sherut and one year of Midrasha, she embarked upon the trail before Purim of 2023, and completed the trek three months later on Yom Yerushalayim. Setting out in the spring, she began in Eilat and headed up to the Chermon mountains in consideration of the seasons and accompanying weather conditions.

In consultation with the extensive Shvil Yisrael WhatsApp created by former participants in the hike, Moriya and her carefully chosen friend Naomi Amussi began their adventure. Vital to their success was their compatibility in terms of physical stamina, appreciation of nature, similar temperaments and, most important—love of Eretz Yisrael. Packed up with a 12-kilo backpack including a minimum of clothing for heat and cold, basic cooking apparatus and nonperishable food items, they donned their sturdy hiking boots and were on their way with online maps to guide them.

The goal of 15 to 25 kilometers of hiking per day was divided up into segments in the early morning and evenings. All along the trail, they encountered Shvil Yisrael markers in the colors of white, blue and brown. Blue indicated sea and sky, white indicated snow, and brown (or orange) indicated desert. The tricolored vertical lines arranged in different lengths also indicated the direction, either north or south. Plans for camping accommodations and water supply were made well in advance based on the information provided by the app.

Moriya reaching Yam Hamelach—The Dead Sea.

Along the route, marked by the Shvil Yisrael colored logo, were libraries offering reading materials which were available to the hikers and which they would return to future libraries along the route. At these spots as well were notebooks inviting comments by trekkers about their experiences or notes of encouragement from passersby.

For the shomer Shabbat “Shvilistim,” planning for Shabbat accommodations was done by Thursday, taking into consideration the closest town that could provide them with the proper Shabbat venue.

On occasion, friends in the area were contacted to host a group of hikers. More often, the hikers consulted a list of individuals and families known as “Malachei HaShvil,” or Angels on the Road. These are Israeli families that value the efforts of the hikers on the Shvil and welcome them into their homes for hot showers, home-cooked food, encouragement and when needed, Shabbat hospitality. It is the pride they take in their portion of Eretz Yisrael that motivates them to open their homes to the hikers. Moriya and Naomiwere treated to Lag B’Omer barbecues, Shabbat onegs, and Chol Hamoed Pesach observances. They were even delighted to be able to experience Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut in different cities along the way.

Shvil Yisrael was created by two Israelis who cherish their country and want to share its beauty with the world. Avraham Tamir, a journalist by profession, hiked the Appalachian Trail in the U.S. He shared his impressions of the experience with his friend, historian Uri Dvir, who also served as a tour guide and was one of the founders of the Society for the Conservation of Nature in Israel. After years of planning, the official opening of the Shvil took place in 1994 with the direct participation of then President Ezer Weizman. In 2012, the Shvil was listed in 20th place for one of the best tourist destinations in the world.

Moriya starting the day at sunrise.

From Israel’s northern border to its southernmost point, the Shvil travels 1,100 kilometers or 683 miles. The terrain is divided into brown areas and green areas, including landscapes of mountains, forests, deserts and coastal regions. Rocky paths, sandy patches, and steep ascents and descents are traversed. Weather conditions range from blazing heat in the daytime to cold blasts at night time. Water sources in the desert areas may be sparse. Food is not readily available and must be planned for in advance. Careful planning and research are required at every stage of the hike.

Ascending challenging climbs.

For Moriya and Naomi, these challenges heightened their experience and made it that much more meaningful. The strategies they learned and the self-sufficiency they developed will accompany them for life. They learned to appreciate the simple life. Their love and understanding of nature reached new heights. Their meeting fellow hikers from China, France and Germany opened up their horizons. Their experiences of warmth and hospitality by the Angels on the Trail were unforgettable. And the best—they got to sleep in million-star hotels every night!

Shvil Yisrael is doable for all ages and stages of life. A group of former Bnei Akiva friends from Yerushalayim formed a Shvil Yisrael group. Now in their 60s, with more flexibility in their schedules, they planned out the Shvil for one-day treks, overnights or weekends including Shabbatot. On average, they hiked 10 times per year. After 6 ½ years they completed the Shvil with great jubilation. They are now planning to hike the new Golan trail.

Naomi and Moriya at the finishing line.

To learn more about Shvil Yisrael go to www.israeltrail.net

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