I write to you from the Israel National Trail (Shvil Yisrael), which was conceived of in 1995 by Avraham Tamir after he hiked the Appalachian Trail. I chose to do this for my sabbatical from my congregation with intention of experiencing a sacred pilgrimage. So often I travel around Israel either via a tour bus or by car. This time I wanted to do it by foot. (You can read more about my journey at rabbimollyg.com/itsaboutthejourney/)
When I was preparing for doing the Shvil I began reading about other people’s sacred journeys by foot from Cheryl Strayed’s Wild to David Grossman’s To the End of the Land. In each of the stories, the path is just as important as the people who are walking upon it. They choose to walk not for relaxation and to get away from it all, but because the path has called to them and they want the challenge. Or as Phil Cousineau puts it, “Journeys are rhapsodies on the theme of discovery.”
Over a week ago on the trail I was wondering what the Hebrew word was for pilgrim and one of my fellow shvilists told me it was, “aliya laregel.” Of course, I thought to myself about the Hebrew, remembering the term: shalosh regalim…which refers to Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, when pilgrims traveled to Jerusalem.
As Passover approaches while I am on the trail, I have thought a lot about our pilgrim ancestors walking to Jerusalem (which I hope to achieve by mid – April). They journeyed with commitment, to be in community, and to bring sacred gifts to God. When we celebrate these holidays we often do it sitting down at a table still perhaps with these things in our hearts, but not so often with these intentions in our feet. So I imagine this year while on the shvil having these intentions in my feet…thinking about my commitment to Eretz Yisrael, the joy from walking the shvil in community with people from around the world, and with love in my heart for God and God’s promise of this land for the people Israel.
Rabbi Molly Kane serves Brooklyn Heights Synagogue and is currently blogging at rabbimollyg.com/itsaboutthejourney/