Sunday, 15 June 2014

On once holy land (TBS01)

For some strange reason, it seemed like a good idea to get the 16.01 train to King's Cross and arrive at Terminal Five of Heathrow aerodrome almost four hours before my flight to Tel Aviv was due to depart ... but one just never knows when unseasonal leaves might fall on the line.

The lady at the check-in desk was most helpful in "nicking a seat" for me (presumably a technical term employed by British Airways staff) enabling me to have a window seat on my first flight to Israel - a move which was much appreciated as the once holy land came into view through my starboard window. I confess that the sight of the coastline was rather evocative.

Approaching Tel Aviv
As a child I had particularly enjoyed looking at maps of Palestine and other Biblical lands - they were, after all, the only coloured pages in my Bible. There are many names of places with which I have become very familiar over the years, and now I was finally about to step forth on this land. And though no longer holy, as once it had been, this was the land in which Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had walked, the land over which David, Hezekiah and Josiah had ruled, and, of course, the land in which Jesus lived most of his life.

Landing at Tel Aviv early on a Sunday morning was a joy, and the four hours wait for my lift was exceeded only by the length of my flight. Once Dale and Frank arrived to collect me, we began driving east through the Coastal Plain in the direction of Jerusalem, towards the Shephelah. We passed a few places of Biblical significance, but before we reached the Judean hills, we arrived in the area of Beit Shemesh.

Up to this point I knew relatively little of what was to be our daily schedule. That was about to change. On entering a supermarket type of shop in something of a shopping centre, I was advised to purchase a few snacks to eat before leaving each morning. I was then informed that the working day was to begin at five o'clock each day and that it would be expedient to have some sort of 'first breakfast' before the 'official breakfast' was served sometime after half past eight. There was plenty of choice, but with most products labeled in Hebrew it was not as straightforward as it might have been.

Putting up the breakfast tent
Supplies procured, we proceeded to the kibbutz which would be home for the next four weeks. Netiv HaLamed He Kibbutz is situated in the valley of Elah - the site of David's encounter with Goliath. Here we met a number of others involved on the excavation and ate some lunch before heading to the dig site a few miles away where we spent the hot afternoon putting up a shelter under which the official breakfast would be eaten over the next four weeks.

I travelled back with Shlomo, one of the directors of the excavation, who explained the significance of the name of the kibbutz as referring to 35 soldiers killed in the area just prior to the establishment of the state of Israel. Lamed He being the Hebrew numerals for 35. Though still called a kibbutz, like most it no longer functions as once they did but has become much more commercial in nature.

The expedition had begun!

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