Hikers of all ages can enjoy this fun, pleasant excursion.
By: ERETZ Staff
This trail was blazed during the days of the British Mandate of Palestine. After the State of Israel was established, it became popular among Zionist youth movements, whose members followed it while making their way from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee. Today it is part of the Israel Trail.
This three-hour hike begins at the parking lot at the summit of Mount Meron and ends at the Bar Yohai picnic area, by the large curve in the main highway that descends from the village of Meron to Carmiel. It is not a ring route and so a car is needed to drop off and pick up hikers.
From the parking lot on Mount Meron’s summit follow the blue trail markings and the Israel Trail markings that lead through the woods at the southern end of the parking lot towards Bak house (the road south is tempting, but that’s the wrong way). At the point where the Israel Trail turns sharply to the left onto a dirt road, the blue trail markings continue to the right to reach the remains of the first new Jewish settlement that the Old Yishuv initiated. Rabbi Israel Bak established it in 1834 and 15 families managed to subsist here until being expelled in 1840, when Muhammad Ali conquered the land of Israel from the Turks. A few walls of the ill-fated community still can be seen standing to the south of the trail. The walls and a row of mulberry trees, which the settlers planted in the hopes of raising silkworms, are all that remains. Further on is an abandoned building known as the forest ranger’s house, which has a gorgeous view of the ridge of Mount Meron and the village of Beit Jann. The original forest ranger who lived in the house was Yusuf Safady, a Druze from the village of Majdal Shams who helped establish a spy ring in Syria in the 1950s. After the spy ring was discovered, Safady managed to flee to Israel, where he found work as a forest ranger. In 1955, he was murdered by Ali Harboush, who was sent by Syrian intelligence to settle the score. Harboush was later killed in an IDF operation in Syria.
After checking out the ruins, return to the Israel Trail and follow it along the road (make sure to turn right with the markings and not continue straight as that path leads back to the parking lot on the summit). The trail soon reaches the first karstic chimney, known in Arabic as a huta, sealed off with a metal grate. The Meron mountain range is dotted with these narrow clefts in the earth and the trail runs close to several of them. Be careful near them and keep children away from their edges.
The blue-marked path and the Israel Trail lead through the orchards of Beit Jann, reaching the head of Nahal Sod and Nahal Meron. The family of sergeant Salah Tafesh, a Beit Jann resident who fell in battle against terrorists in southern Lebanon on April 6, 1992, constructed a beautiful memorial for him here. A paramedic in the forces securing a convoy that had been ambushed, Tafesh made his way to the convoy and treated the wounded under fire. He was fatally wounded in the process, but refused to be evacuated until he finished treating the last of his comrades. He was posthumously awarded a citation for bravery.
From the memorial, the path descends into the riverbed of Nahal Sod, passes another big huta, and reaches Ein Zeved, a seasonal spring that flows into a small pool at the foot of an ancient tree. The pool is home to a few salamanders (rare and in danger of extinction). This is a nice place to take a break and enjoy the stunning view. On clear days, snowcapped Mount Hermon can be seen in the distance.
The path continues downward, passing a solitary, large natural stone known as Elijah’s chair. This stone is mentioned frequently in the tales of the kabbalists. The students of rabbi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi (the Ari), for example, said that after the Messiah arrives, he will take a seat here. The path continues to descend along the slope, reaching a clearing with a large monumental tomb in its center. This is the middle of the ancient cemetery of Khirbet Shema, the pile of ancient ruins on the low hill to the north. The cemetery includes this monumental tomb of which nothing is known. In the trees to the east of the tomb, dug into a small ledge, is a group of burial caves with signs and names of the sages buried in them. The signs are put up by various Jewish graves identification and preservation groups. Their veracity is questionable, except for the fact that the graves are from the Roman-Byzantine era.
From here, it is a short downhill walk to the end of the route at the Bar Yohai picnic grounds by the Meron spring. Picnic tables in the grove around the spring make it a pleasant spot to relax upon completing this short hike.