As many of you Readers now know, I have started my own new business making handcrafted, organic, kosher gourmet condiments. It has involved lots of work from learning the language, to taking business courses at the local college – from finding the equipment and materials to designing and printing labels. The fun parts are the connection with local growers and the creation/production of each batch of conserves or relishes.
Once or twice a week, my husband, John, and I go fruit picking in local groves and orchards. It gets me out of the kitchen into the sunshine; I get to meet great people; and as an added bonus, we get some needed exercise. Last week, our friends in Korazim invited us to go picking in their mango orchard and spend the Shabbat with them. They, too, are new immigrants of a year and a half – from New York – and we have become great friends with the family. Each week I learn so much; in Jordan & Ora’s orchard there are 7 different type of mangos all different in size, taste and texture!!! I got the low ones, but it was lots of fun to see the guys climbing up in the trees picking the high ones. First hint of the adventures to come!
After a couple hours in the orchard, Jordan invited us on a hike to the Old Khan. And this was where our Second Childhood experience began! I love Israel because there are so many exploration opportunities and adventures lurking around every hill and down every wadi. Old, abandoned haunts from eras past. War and battlefield spots from Biblical to Modern times. Bedouin camps. Ruins. Shrines.
We hiked a couple kilometers through some orchards in the upper Galilee overlooking the lake and over a lone, rocky hill covered in dry brush until we came to a fenced off area. The Old Khan!!!! Now deemed too “dangerous” to enter … but like kids, that didn’t stop us. A khan is a caravanserie, like an inn or resting place for travelers – journeying between Damascus and Jerusalem, in this case. It was built by Mamaluks in the 13th century, and used to have two stories with rooms for travelers, prayer rooms, tax collection rooms, dining hall, and storehouses. The large central courtyard was completely carpeted with tall, dense weeds (fear of lurking vipers added to the adventure), but the rooms were beckoning us to go further. I let the guys enter first, as about 30 small bats were scared out of their residence. Like kids, we explored every part of this. Who lived here? Who visited? What was this used for? Did Ahmed’s wife supervise the renovations (it was obvious along the course of years walls were added, doorways improved, “windows” enlarged, and ceilings raised and decorated).”Oh, Ahmed… it’s way to drafty in this place! Could you please move some rocks to block that doorway? And, Ahmed, while you’re at it, perhaps mud over that window at the top to make it look pointy and fancier…” It was a great place to re-enact Monty Python scenes and look for treasure as well.
So, was this one of a chain of Khans along the Road to Damascus, kind of like Motel Six? Did Napoleon’s army stay here on their march to Akko? Were the bullet holes in the wall from the early pioneering days or the 1967 war? So many questions!!!
I would later find out from Jordan’s wife, Ora, who had spent her childhood on the neighboring kibbutz the more recent history of the Khan, and the possible reason it had been fenced off. In the 1970s, the whole area had been used by the older teens on the nearby kibbutz as a place of “initiation” for the junior-high set. Nothing terrible, just spine-chilling. The younger teens were led blindfolded through the orchard during summer nights by flashlight by a “guide” as older teens squirted water and threw eggs upon them from atop the huge avocado and lemon trees. When the scout brought the innocent to the opening, the blindfold was taken off the young teen and he was sworn to secrecy. The Khan was lit with candles and the new prospect would be led from room to room hearing of legendary murders and great scary stories that supposedly happened in each place. It didn’t hurt the ambiance that bats were regularly flying in and out. The neophyte was made to ascend the old staircase and scale the walls in the moonlight. At the end of the ceremony, a campfire was lit in the courtyard and the initiated took a blood oath of allegiance and secrecy to stick together and defend the kibbutz and its legends. What cool way to enter into the teen years!
It was getting late in the afternoon, and we had to be back to their house and cleaned up before Shabbat started, but we had time for one more stop: Joseph’s well. Legend as far back as the 10th century has this as the well of Dothan where the sons of Jacob flung Joseph until they sold him into slavery. Because this was the caravan route, it was here (supposedly) that the traders picked him up on their journey to Egypt. It’s a dug-out pit 10 meters deep lined with stones, and now completely sealed off with metal grating. Atop the pit stands a stone and earthen domed cupola as it was also a Moslem holy site. It has been long since abandoned, like the Khan, and no one seems to know how it came to be associated with the story of Joseph. Still, it was a fun hike to the top. Before I moved to Israel, a dear friend of mine, also named Joseph told me about this well. He was in the terminal stages of pancreatic cancer and instructed me to call out to Joseph in honor of his namesake from that site. It’s taken three years to find, and Joe has since passed on, but I yelled to both Josephs in their memories.
The shadows were getting longer and we still had about an hour’s hike back. One last stop along the way: an old pillbox where the kibbutzniks of the 1920s-1940s, and again in the 60’s, defended themselves from Arab attackers. Also interesting: however, we had no time to really scope out the inside as we would have liked, but that just gives us reason to go back and have another grand adventure!