JTS Jumpstart Israel Tiyul to Sataf, Castel, and Tzuba 2013: Behind the Scenes
by Jama Purser (RS, )
The Jewish Theological Seminary's rabbinical and cantorial group met at the Shocken Institute for Jewish Research at 8:15 a.m. to catch the van for a guided tour of Jerusalem's western corridor; the group was led by our tour guide, Etan. First, we travelled to Har Eitan and to Sataf, a mountainside village and forest in the Judean highlands just west of Jerusalem. The Sataf forest is a mountainous public area that consists of many young trees and ancient stone-edged terraces along the sides of the mountain; the terraces were originally shaped by an ancient Jewish community dating back thousands of years. The trail we hiked was beautiful. It was probably at an intermediate level of difficulty: paying attention to precise foot placement-as well as to the scenery-was a necessary part of the hike.
We started from the top of the mountain and hiked down the trail. At about midpoint, we saw several natural springs, pools, and reservoirs, including one cave surrounding the mouth of a spring. Many of our group entered and toured the cave. Beside one of the other springs, Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz led us in a brief devar about the weekly portion, Ki Tetzei. We hiked past several beautiful organic farms in the hillside terraces, and a tiny vineyard. We walked through Jerusalem pine, oak, olive, almond, pomegranate, and pistachio trees. We also saw an archaeological site where there were ancient stone columns and the remnants of a hillside village, abandoned by its Arab residents during the War of Independence. Etan told us that the settlement began around 6,000 years ago, and that archaeological studies show the terrace construction dates to about 4,000 years ago. That's pretty ancient! The hillside community was probably most populated, active, and at its greatest size and splendor in the Second Temple period. Crusaders and Ottomans also once conquered and resided in the area. In 1949, a Jewish moshav was founded at the ruins of Sataf. Since then, Sataf has been primarily a land conservation area maintained by the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund and the Israel Defense Forces, mainly for the recreational use of Jerusalemites. Across the valley, during one part of the hike, we could see another hillside where Hadassah Medical Center, the home of famous Chagall windows, is located.
After Sataf, we drove a short distance through the Judean hills, then parked and hiked to the mountaintop at the Castel Memorial, a tribute to Israeli soldiers who died in the 1947 War of Independence. Castel National Park is a memorial commemorating key battles in this war. The mountain has a commanding 360-degree view of the Jerusalem corridor, especially of all of the villages and towns along the western approach to Jerusalem. At this site, we learned of a number of significant, albeit small, battles that were fought as the Israeli Haganah and Palmach forces tried to "clear" the Arab villages along the Jerusalem corridor. This helped to establish Israeli control of the corridor, leading to the establishment of the new State of Israel in 1948. In 1947, there had been an Arab blockade of the western corridor, the principal means of getting supplies to Jews in Jerusalem, and convoys of supplies along the road were often attacked. Control of the Castel mountaintop most likely gave control of the road to whoever conquered and occupied the mountain. A gruesome but famous nighttime battle was fought here in which 41 soldiers were killed and mutilated by Arab forces, although Israeli troops successfully regained control several days later. The memorial is a tribute to the soldiers who died in that battle.
We finished our Jumpstart Israel tiyul by touring the relatively young winery at Kibbutz Tzuba, located on another mountaintop in the same area. We sat and rested a bit as the owner told us about the new wine industry that has sprung up in Jerusalem, and about some of the challenges of being kosher in this type of business. We sat in an outdoor picnic terrace on the side of a nearby hill, tasted four wines, perused the shop afterwards, and then piled back into the van to head home. The trip was strenuous, but very informative, and took us to some areas not easily discovered by most tourist groups.
On a reflective note, I feel the Jumpstart Israel program has helped me a great deal, especially to develop my growing sense of attachment to Israel. The tiyul today has contributed to that feeling. Overall, Jumpstart has provided me with a unique opportunity to advance my Hebrew skills, while simultaneously living near and touring some of the most beautiful and interesting sites in Israel. This experience will definitely be integral to my ongoing career development as a rabbi. I am very grateful to the Jumpstart sponsors, to The Rabbinical School of JTS, and to Rabbi Berkowitz for making this Jerusalem dream a reality for me.