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Boulderite hiking through Israel keeps eyes on the environment

There are many ways to explore and learn Israel. No one knows that better than Boulder’s Francine Lavin Weaver, who has made many trips to the Jewish homeland over the years.

“Every time I go it’s a new experience,” she says. “I’ve observed Israel from the back of a tour bus. I’ve interacted with the people who live there, gone to Ulpan centers (language center).”

But this past spring, instead of shuttling around the country, she explored it on foot.

“It was just another venue, one that sat well in my being because it was interacting with the land on a different level.”

Weaver, along with 29 others from the US and Israel, donned sturdy walking shoes to hike the country from the northern tip of Israel to the Sea of Galilee.

The inaugural Heschel Hazon Hike Bishvil Yisrael benefited the Tel Aviv Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership and New York-based Hazon.

“Hazon” is Hebrew for vision. The agency offers programs that engage Jews of all ages on contemporary issues.

The Heschel Center is dedicated to building a sustainable future for Israel from environmental, social and economic perspectives.

Both organizations align with Weaver’s passions: Israel, environmental issues and social justice. The hike across Israel appealed to her for another reason.

“I needed a personal physical challenge,” she said. “I had been training just to get my body in shape in general and this provided the right thing at the right time.”

Weaver and her fellow hikers covered about 40 miles in four days. They were also the first group to trod on a newly opened trail connecting the Israel National Trail to the Trans-Kineret Circle Path at Naha Gaf.

“The hike itself was run with a minimal carbon footprint,” Weaver explained. “We picked plants along the way and used them for our lunch in an omelet. We ate locally. We had our own water bottles and refilled them regularly to cut down on waste.”

And, of course, much of the footprints they left behind came from the soles of their shoes.

“We hiked through small villages, through fields, as well as some historic sites including archaeological ruins,” Weaver reported.

Each day had a different focus.

“The first day was ‘wonder’ and they set us up to really observe our environment and what we were walking through,” she said.

The second day was about the interaction of nature and culture.

The third day focused on settlement and the city.

The fourth day the hike organizers spoke about leadership, partnership and change.

“I remember on the fourth day toward the end of the hike, we walked with Heschel fellows who were working on projects trying to educate the people of Israel on the environment and sustainable issues.

“It was interesting to talk to them and see how they were being leaders in their communities, looking at life from an environmental perspective.”

One of the key challenges that Israel faces is its rapid evolution from desert to democracy.

“They grew up very fast and put up a lot of wonderful places and cities and kibbutzim and settled the land,” Weaver said, “but now they’re realizing more and more that they share the land and the water with their Arab neighbors.
“It’s one of the more important issues they are dealing with. That and being a global neighbor.
“Just like us living in the US, they’re reaching the understanding that we have to do something now [to preserve the environment], and we should have done it a long time ago.”
For those who want to stretch their minds and legs on the other side of the globe, the Heschel Center is planning a second hike, this time across Israel, from the Kineret to the Mediterranean, for next spring.
For those who don’t want to wait that long to experience Israel from the ground, Hazon is offering its annual bike ride from Jerusalem to Eilat this November.
While Weaver isn’t sure yet whether she’ll sign up for next year’s trip, she plans to incorporate her Israel experience into her regular hikes near Boulder this summer.

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