Figs, olives, almonds and more: Exploring Israel’s Biblical foliage
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Figs, olives, almonds and more: Exploring Israel’s Biblical foliage

An abandoned quarry gave rise to the Kommemiyut Forest, where visitors can see the breadth of Israeli flora and learn some historical lessons on the way

  • The path through the Kommemiyut Forest includes a variety of foliage, several wells, an orchard and an abandoned quarry. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    The path through the Kommemiyut Forest includes a variety of foliage, several wells, an orchard and an abandoned quarry. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • A traditional brick-lined well in the forest, roughly 40 meters (130 feet) deep. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    A traditional brick-lined well in the forest, roughly 40 meters (130 feet) deep. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • Stone pines are native to the eastern Mediterranean and widespread throughout north Africa. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    Stone pines are native to the eastern Mediterranean and widespread throughout north Africa. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • Squill, a plant species native to coastal Mediterranean areas, lines the rim of the abandoned quarry in the Kommemiyut Forest. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    Squill, a plant species native to coastal Mediterranean areas, lines the rim of the abandoned quarry in the Kommemiyut Forest. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • Prickly pears, or sabras, bloom in the area in the summer. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    Prickly pears, or sabras, bloom in the area in the summer. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • The rim of the abandoned quarry in Kommemiyut Forest. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    The rim of the abandoned quarry in Kommemiyut Forest. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • Sycamore is not native to Israel, but were introduced to the area by settlers several thousand years ago. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    Sycamore is not native to Israel, but were introduced to the area by settlers several thousand years ago. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • Exotic-looking palms line the path to the quarry in the forest. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    Exotic-looking palms line the path to the quarry in the forest. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • The orchard in the forest includes olive trees, as well as sycamore, almonds, figs and pomegranates. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    The orchard in the forest includes olive trees, as well as sycamore, almonds, figs and pomegranates. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • Pine trees, like these in southern Israel's Kommemiyut Forest, are highly inflammable.  (Shmuel Bar-am)
    Pine trees, like these in southern Israel's Kommemiyut Forest, are highly inflammable. (Shmuel Bar-am)
  • Date trees and vineyards line the path through the Kommemiyut Forest. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    Date trees and vineyards line the path through the Kommemiyut Forest. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • The stump of a Eucalyptus tree, harvested for industrial use. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    The stump of a Eucalyptus tree, harvested for industrial use. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • Crocus flowers dot the grounds of the Kommemiyut Forest. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    Crocus flowers dot the grounds of the Kommemiyut Forest. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • Christ-thorn jujubes, used to make the crown of thorns worn by Jesus. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    Christ-thorn jujubes, used to make the crown of thorns worn by Jesus. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • John the Baptist may have sustained himself with the seeds of carob trees when he lived in the Judean wilds. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    John the Baptist may have sustained himself with the seeds of carob trees when he lived in the Judean wilds. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • The "acclimatization area" of the Kommemiyut Forest, developed to cope with the area's relatively low amount of rainfall. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    The "acclimatization area" of the Kommemiyut Forest, developed to cope with the area's relatively low amount of rainfall. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Seventeen years ago, Israel’s Fund for the Rehabilitation of Quarries began work on a long abandoned site inside the Jewish National Fund’s Kommemiyut Forest. Although the quarry was beautifully rehabilitated, the Fund had neglected to coordinate their project with JNF strategists. As a result, for years this fascinating attraction just sat there – in the middle of the forest – unnoticed by the Israeli public.

Fortunately, when the JNF’s Talila Livshutz began preparing a trail through the forest, she included the quarry in the new route. Completed in 2009, the trail is an absolute delight: an easy, circular walk along a marked path and perfect for all ages. Besides the quarry, it encompasses a vast variety of foliage, several wells, and an orchard. It begins and ends at the Givati Recreation Area seven kilometers west of Plugot Junction on Highway 35. Please take note of this great family trail, if you aren’t in Israel at the moment but are planning a trip here in the future.

A sign in Hebrew for Shvil HaKfar (Village Trail) hints that part of the route includes ruins from an Arab village that stood here until 1948. All of the signs, unfortunately, are in Hebrew only: Livshutz once told me that only if a project is funded by a donation from an English-speaking contributor are the signs written in English.

The path is lined with luxurious eucalyptus trees, planted in the 1950’s and wonderfully mature. Eucalyptus trees have all kinds of uses, for besides the beauty they lend to the landscape they are excellent windbreakers. In addition, their flowers provide food for hungry bees at a time when other foliage is not in bloom.

The pine grove in southern Israel's Kommemiyut Forest. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
The pine grove in southern Israel’s Kommemiyut Forest. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Next, on this charming forest trail is a beautiful pine grove interspersed with a few sycamores. Like the eucalyptus, which hails from Australia, sycamore trees are not native to Israel. Indeed, in order to bear ripe fruit and create seeds, they require a particular hornet that is found only in West Africa.

Israel’s sycamore were brought here by settlers thousands of years ago because they are very useful in the construction of houses. At the time, settlers planted a sycamore tree every time a son was born. When he grew up, they would cut the tree, whose trunk made a perfect beam, and build him a house. Of course the sycamores you see along the trail were planted by the JNF – and not by long-ago settlers.

The next trees to line the path are Christ-thorn jujubes (shezaf). Traditionally, this type of tree was used to create the thorny crown that Jesus wore on his last journey. Some Arabs believe that the tree has magical powers, and others that ghosts live in the trunk.

Christ-thorn jujubes, used to make the crown of thorns worn by Jesus. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
Christ-thorn jujubes, used to make the crown of thorns worn by Jesus. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Jujube fruits are called “domim” in Hebrew. When ripe the fruits are yellowish, with one pit inside, and while a bit floury they are quite delicious.

Both the jujube and the eucalyptus along the trail were planted in the 1950s. At the time, Negev settlers were struggling to make a living, and planting trees for the JNF provided them with jobs.

A group of carob trees is laden with long dangling brown fruit most of the year. In Hebrew the tree is called haruv, perhaps because the fruits vaguely resemble swords (herev, in Hebrew). The New Testament relates that when John the Baptist lived in the Judean wilds he nourished himself with “locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). However, the seeds are also known as locust beans, and many believe that John dined on carobs – and not grasshoppers.

John the Baptist may have sustained himself with the seeds of carob trees when he lived in the Judean wilds. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
John the Baptist may have sustained himself with the seeds of carob trees when he lived in the Judean wilds. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Jewish tradition holds that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who fled from the Romans during the second century, hid in a cave in the village of Pequi’in. Miraculously, both a life-giving spring and a carob tree appeared across from the cave, providing him with sustenance for over a decade. Wikipedia tells us that carob fruit is believed to be an aphrodisiac.

On the average, this area receives about 350 millimeters of rain each year, and it was important to the JNF to discover which species of trees would thrive on this amount of rainfall. Thus from 1994 to 1996 the JNF planted a number of types of trees in an “acclimatization” area, located along the path.

Although now inactive, the area boasts plenty of flourishing trees, among them oak, eucalyptus and jujube. Some have shed their leaves, creating artistic environmental sculptures. Next is a grove of stone pines, whose rounded crowns emit an aura of tranquility. In fall, delicate pink crocuses growing close to the ground only add to the atmosphere. Nearby, exotic palms provide a startling contrast to the pines.

A path lined with little stones leads to the rim of the quarry. The rock quarried here was kurkar, a sea limestone created by the fossilization of sand dunes. Today if you want quarried sea limestone you have to look outside of Israel – to Malta, for example. Soon the rim of the quarry will be studded with squill. Most of the rest of the year caper plants grow in the rocks.

The rim of the abandoned quarry in Kommemiyut Forest. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
The rim of the abandoned quarry in Kommemiyut Forest. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

The trail continues through a lovely forest of stone and Jerusalem pines and eventually leads to a well lined with bricks made of kurkar and topped by big iron bars to keep you from falling inside. Like other area wells, this one is about 40 meters deep.

One striking sight on this route is a group of wide eucalyptus trunks. It seems that many years ago the JNF made a deal that was meant to promote Israeli industries. They took healthy trees (both eucalyptus and pine) and gave them to factories that needed them for carpentry. This would probably have been a good idea in Canada or Minnesota where trees are a dime a dozen. But Israel lost badly needed mature and hearty trees.

In summer there are lush groves of prickly pears (sabras) which should never be picked without gloves and a tin can (summer visitors, remember this please here, and wherever else you walk).

Prickly pears, or sabras, bloom in the area in the summer. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
Prickly pears, or sabras, bloom in the area in the summer. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Finally, the path leads to an orchard filled with fruit trees: sycamore, almond, olive, fig and pomegranate. In order to ensure good, ripe sycamore fruit, a sycamore “dresser” has to slit the top of each fig. Sycamore dressing of this type is mentioned in Amos 7:14, when the prophet denied any connection to prophets and their disciples: Then Amos said to Amaziah: ‘I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was a herdman, and a dresser of sycamore-trees”. Today sycamore fruit is called “figs for the poor” and provides food for cows and sheep.

Lovely date trees line the path, followed by vineyards. And soon the trail leads back to the beginning. A word: if you live in Israel and have already taken this walk – try it again at another season: the trees and flowers will have changed their look.

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Aviva Bar-Am is the author of seven English-language guides to Israel.

Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed tour guide who provides private, customized tours in Israel for individuals, families and small groups.

If you need more specific directions for the trail, write to us at israeltravels@gmail.com

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