The sun peaked over the placid Sea of Galilee as I waded into the cool waters and rinsed off the sweat from my Middle Eastern sweltering sleep. Could a man really have walked on these waters? The clear liquid fell between the cracks of my fingers as I held it, examining the sea’s physical properties. As I spotted fish swimming within my reach, I wondered did He really multiply them to feed the masses? As the water crept above my waist, I plunged forward into the icy reprieve. Ripples moved out from my body, the only disturbance in the Sea of Galilee’s expanse of stillness. Rubbing the water from my eyes, I looked out into the sandy hues of beige and pinks into the distance and down at the gradient of crystal blues before me.
As I packed up camp and continued to hike the remainder of the 40-mile Jesus Trail in Northern Israel, I experienced more than just the holy tumult of the Christian tales; I felt matched veneration in exploring a 4th century synagogue, old Arab village ruins and homages to lives lost in the Holocaust as I felt that day on the Galilee. The deep history of Northern Israel augmented my quest to understand humanity and our beginnings. The motivating factors that led to the social and cultural realities we live out each day. But my first, more answerable, question was: Who paved these very paths that I walked? I was able to meet with Maoz Inon, Israeli and co-founder of the Jesus Trail and ask him a few questions.
What inspired the construction of the Jesus Trail?
When my wife and I hiked in South America, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu — lightning hit me! There must be a trail in Israel to connect the spiritual sites, ruins and historical and religious sites.
What’s your spiritual background?
I’m not a spiritual guy but I like hiking very much. David Landis, my co-founder and myself, took the scenery, the land of the galilee, back roads, existing hiking paths, and we created something much bigger.
Is this hike geared toward Christian tourism only?
We’re not only focusing on the Christian culture–we are focusing on the human culture–but Christianity is important to the human culture. Most of the people in the world are raised on the stories such as those from the Galilee and the miracles of Jesus and his disciples. The trail brings the old stories to modern narrative through a hiking experience. It connects Judaism, Arabs, and Christianity together.
What is some feedback you’ve gotten from people who have hiked the Jesus Trail?
People are thankful to us for creating this experience because these places weren’t so accessible before. Now we have a topographical map and a website. People ask, “Jesus was here 2000 years ago, how has no one thought about doing this trail before?” Many people are thankful to us for creating the infrastructure to hike safely through the land of the galilee to follow the bible’s stories. At last there is an alternative to crowded holy sites and air conditioned tour buses. Hikers can take the 40-mile trail without much hiking experience and within a reasonable budget. There was no real way to experience the galilee through Jesus’ eyes and now tourists can do it.
What are your hopes for the Jesus Trail in the future?
I hope we’ll keep establishing the trail, the infrastructure in the community and that more guest houses will open. In Cana, where Jesus made his first miracle of turning water into wine, there were no guest houses or any kind of accommodation option before the Jesus Trail was established–now there are two. We are really making a difference for these communities. It’s very rewarding, what we are doing is a making a difference in the lives of people living in the Galilee.
The trail is a vehicle to build up the land together, to raise awareness for the environment. The area around the villages should be cleaner, and taken care of. That more small businesses will be supported by the tourism, in the hopes of tourism and economic prosperity will come. Thanks to the Jesus trail, to many communities in towns in the backyard of Israel that are being overlooked by entrepreneurs, the government, and even the local people. There are many people hiking the trail: Americans, Canadians, French, Norwegians and more.
How have you seen the “human culture” cultivated?
The Jesus Trail is an educational journey. You’ll experience Kibbutz Lavi built on Arab village ruins from 1948. This Kibbutz was founded by Jews from Germany, fleeing the holocaust. Then you will visit the battle place of defeat of the crusaders by the Muslim leader Salah A-Din in the 12th century; then you go through a ruined synagogue of Arbel from the 4th century. In a few kilometers, we’ve visited histories of Jews in Europe, the Crusaders and the Muslims. We are trying to use Jesus’ power to bring those ruined cultures and histories to mind and to create a better future for those people living in the Galilee today.
We are not Jews or Arabs saying, “They are right, they are wrong.” We just want to show the evidence of what happened here. You don’t need to take a side, but listen to the stories. The stones have the stories to tell you. Like Jesus, when he walked the Galilee. Jesus didn’t take a side. He visited communities and villages where he met Jews, Romans, and all those people. He learned from them. He taught them his lessons. It doesn’t matter that Cana is an Arab village, or the kibbutz Levi is Jewish, we are all human beings. Jesus would prefer staying in these small, modest guest houses with local families, like we have along the Jesus Trail, listening to the people’s stories and talking to locals.
Any funny Jesus Trail hiking stories to share?
We had a 92-year-old man from Texas come and walk the whole trail in 4 days. Two volunteers, Phillip and Betsy, walked with him. Fauzi Azar is our leading hostel in the region and also the basecamp with updated trail information. The first day, from Nazareth, is the easiest day to get lost. So we have volunteers from Fauzi to help hikers.
We started from scratch, but we are now getting sponsors. We are featured in countless magazines. We are a model for the Abraham Trail, following the steps of Abraham and we are proud of our partnership with Kibbutz Levi, an Orthodox Jewish Kibbutz. We were wondering how Kibbutz Levi would react when we asked for their partnership. To host Christian hikers. With us bringing them the Jesus Trail. An orthodox Jewish Kibbutz, hosting Christian hikers? We were really doubting it. But they support us! We are not here to hurt anyone, or to convert them. We are here to treat everyone as equals and we do want them to see our culture in the Kibbutz and the synagogues.
I noticed Nazareth and Cana were Arab villages. How has it been working with smaller, Arab communities?
We get a lot of respect for what we do. We bring guests to the villages — building up local economies and developing infrastructure. Working with Arab villages is just like working with other villages. We don’t see much difference. This is a special hike: You are crossing an old B.C. Roman road, and Jesus walked this very road from Capernaum. Jesus walked here. You can sell the Jesus Trail on cultural, political, historical, scenic, community building, development, and great food.
Check out www.jesustrail.com for maps, sample itineraries, and how to take on the deep magic of Israel’s religious history; and visit DISPATCH for more stories from around the world. Share any comments, questions and thoughts below!