I joined my friend Shirin Ben Jacob to climb from Neve Ativ to the top of Mt. Hermon by foot. This is the highest mountain in Israel (2244 meters above sea level, approximately 6700 ft.).
This mountain is usually visited in the winter when it’s completely covered in snow as it is the skiing option in Israel.
However, it has a unique beauty during the summer when flowers are in bloom and the butterflies come out to play.
Most Israelis who come to this site know very little about its ancient history.
This is the site associated with the angels descending from the heavens and taking human women to become their wives.
The children born from that joining were known as the Nephilim and it was strictly forbidden by God.
That is perhaps the source of the name Hermon (Haram means sacred or forbidden).
Another option for the source of the name is the fact that this mountain is also associated with The Covenant of the Pieces (Genesis 15:1-15), in which God tells Abraham that his children will be strangers in a foreign land and have foreign rulers for 400 years but at the end they will come to Canaan. God makes Abraham a significant promise and Abraham pledges an oath: “In that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates; the Kenite, and the Kenizzite, and the Kadmonite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Rephaim, and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Girgashite, and the Jebusite.” (Genesis 15:18-21).
The community that resides here in the Hellenistic period were known as the Yetorites and some claim they are the descendants of these Nephilim. They were forcibly converted to Judaism by the Hasmoneans (Maccabees) and assimilated into Jewish society.
During the 1st century there was an active site of worship to Pan (Grecko-Roman Deity) at the bottom of the mountain and Jesus and the desciples come there. Jesus than asks them a question: “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20).
The top of the mountain is also one of the sites associated with the Transfiguration of Jesus, when he is seen by the disciples in the presence of Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-8).
However, to most Israelies this is mostly the site of very dramatic and traumatic battles from the 6-day war (1967) and the Yom Kippur war (1973). I was named after my father’s youngest brother (Shabtai Nahon) who fought here on these very slopes and was shot and killed by a Syrian sniper during the 1973 war as part of the Golani brigade.
It was the first time I’ve ever walked this trail and as my peers were rejoicing in the beauty of the scenery and the bloom I kept thinking of what it must have been like to try and run up while being shot at. This was a special day and I am happy and grateful I had the privilege of doing this for leisure instead of for survival.
These are challenging times with everything going on around us. However, these times allowed me to take a break from work and do things I’ve always wanted and never had the time. For that, I am grateful.