Angels & Tahina: Spread Your Wings
By Tzippi Moss
I backpacked the 1000-kilometer Israel Trail with my husband and 18-year-old son over a two-month period. From pine-covered hills to saw-toothed desert, we battled flooded rivers, scorching heat, and soul-sucking mud, unsure if the journey would make or break the family.
The goal was to raise funds to find a cure for the neurological killer ALS, the disease that took the life of my beloved mother-in-law. The people and landscapes taught my core life lessons for both the body and soul.
Tzedakah was an important inspiration and energized us to reach our goal. We were amazed to encounter again and again the power of people who act as angels in everyday ways and to discover how that inspires each of us to serve and give more to one another
As a result of this powerful experience, I wrote Angels & Tahina: 18 Lessons From Hiking the Israel Trail as a testament to the power of family and impossible dreams, as well as a love letter to a country forged by faith and courage. It was listed as one of 11 books that can change your life by Israel21c and is available on Amazon. Signed copies may be purchased directly from the author by writing to email@example.com
The following excerpt from the chapter “Spread Your Wings” describes our family's experiences with Israel's unique network of trail angels. I still feel like an angel in training. I try to remember that God is in the little details. A cold beer on an ungodly hot day can lift the spirit, a few encouraging words can keep hikers going when they think they can’t, and a good hot meal is always welcome. And I like to think that each of these small gestures may be creating a few more angels here on earth.
Excerpt from Chapter: Spread Your Wings
The Chabad rabbi and his wife, whose family we stayed with over a Shabbat, would certainly protest being called angels. But they were. Along with the family that hosted us in Arad for another Shabbat, they are “Israel Trail Angels”, part of an amazing network of people nation-wide who willingly, generously offer help specifically to trekkers hiking the Israel Trail.
After all, this is the Holy Land. These angels are publicly listed on internet trail sites along with the details of what they offer. This ranges from sleeping in a backyard to a comfy bed, hot meals and showers, and even the use of their washing machines and computers. From teens to retirees, singles to large families, they hail from all ends of the religious, economic, and political spectrum. Their number varies between four to five hundred, from the Lebanese to the Egyptian border. In my very informal search, I have found nothing comparable to this in other countries with extensive hiking trails. Other hikers stressed that you haven’t truly done the trail until you’ve stayed with an angel.
Immediately after that Sabbath with the rabbi’s family, on Saturday night, another trail angel from the nearby community of Tzofar made a point of coming to pick us up. Eliyahu was dressed entirely in white, from his cotton pants and tunic to the gauzy scarf wrapped around his head. We loaded our stuff into his S.U.V.
He turned on a CD playing melodic Jewish religious new age music by the popular Israeli artist, Evyatar Banai. As we glided through the Arava night, Eliyahu mentioned how much he loved the message of one of the songs. “It’s only when you fully accept whatever is, that you can truly be comforted,” he said. “That’s what I’ve experienced in life, at least.” With Eliyahu, small talk was soul talk...
... it was Abraham, who wandered from Iraq to Egypt after being told by God to leave everything familiar behind, who was the first Israel Trail angel.
He was the patriarch most known for his lovingkindness and incredible hospitality. Jewish sources describe Abraham’s tent as open on all sides so that he could see travelers approaching from any direction and welcome them. According to the book Zechusa d’Avraham, by experiencing” first-hand what it means to be a traveler… you will practice hospitality with the greatest of sincerity and compassion.”
Whether they were “believers” or not, a common refrain among the trail angels was how good it was to give. Some simply explained that this was the way things were meant to be. If you had, you shared. As natural to them as breathing, they didn’t think their hospitality warranted special kudos.
When I was a young girl, every night before bed I said a special prayer. My favorite section involved the angels: may Michael be at my right, Gabriel on my left, Uriel in front, Raphael behind, and above my head the divine presence. It comforted me to think I was surrounded by angels.
But now, as I hiked through the country, I realized angels were everywhere. We met them on lonely roads, on busy city streets, in desert canyons and even in car parks. They offered food, shelter, practical advice and sometimes donations. There is a side of Israeli culture typified by astounding openness, trust and hospitality, in which the phenomena of the organized trail angels is rooted.
Early on in our hike, for example, as we pulled into the parking lot of Metzudat Yesha, a Galillean fortress, a family was getting out of their car. Curious, they approached and asked us where we were heading. When we explained we intended to hike the entire Israel Trail, they were shocked. And before they even knew our names, they shared their phone numbers and encouraged us to stay with them in the south.
As we progressed along the trail, as we were continually met with open doors, open arms, and open hearts, I felt tremendously humbled. I wanted to learn to give much more of myself. I felt I had a long way to go in growing my angel wings, and then further yet to spread them. When I shared this longing with Allan, he laughed. “What?! Taking two months off from work to hike on behalf of charity isn’t a form of giving?” I knew what he meant. But I was referring to something else.
Hiking the trail as a family, for charity, was the kind of grand gesture that wowed people. It’s easy to do something good when everyone honors you for it, but to give simply, anonymously, without having to think about it—that came far less naturally to me. When I passed beggars on the street, I’d often turn my head in the other direction and pretend I didn’t see.
When charities called to ask for donations, I hesitated, sometimes for practical reasons. Can we afford this right now? Does this charity handle their donations responsibly? Do I believe in their cause? Other reactions were solely emotional. Why do they always call in the middle of supper? How can they read from the same annoying script over and over? Will that woman with the whiney pleading voice just shut up!?
The generosity of our first trail angel, Micky, burst Ezra’s mind and heart wide open. He started thinking about how he wanted to live his life. After meeting so many other angels and witnessing their largesse, Ezra wondered what we could do for others. Adopt a lone soldier? Open up our house more? Angels in Jewish tradition are seen as messengers. One message I kept getting from our formal and informal angels was this: give beyond what’s expected. Go out of your way to surprise and delight others.
Unexpected lessons of generosity showed up repeatedly, dripping into our consciousness, germinating seeds. Kids gave up their bedrooms to make us more comfortable. People bought or baked us gluten free goodies, offered us impossible to buy but essential supplies like single rolls of toilet paper. They anticipated our needs and wants and showed genuine curiosity. Many volunteered in various organizations.
For them this was business as usual. They made me believe in angels, and they made me want to grow wings and become one myself. I wanted to give without a hidden motivation or agenda. In Jewish tradition it is said that when our emotions, intentions, and behaviors come from a holy place, an angel is created. Growing up in Wisconsin, I loved making snow angels. Laying on my back, bundled in layers of clothes, I’d sweep my arms and legs back and forth like wipers, enjoying both the rhythm and the cold. Now I wished to make angels as simply and naturally as that, only this time through my own deeds.
Shortly after we returned home, Ezra registered us as trail angels on the various sites. We started our own trail book for hikers to write in. I hoped one day I would earn my wings by reading words similar to the ones written about Micky. Over the years, we hosted a number of hikers of all ages, ranging from groups to couples, to solo trekkers. Most of the time it was delightful, sharing tales from the trail. We understood the significance of reaching Jerusalem, the approximate half way point and the point where many become homesick and tired.
We encouraged the southbound who feared the desert sections, and told the northbound how much they were going to enjoy the green hills and rivers still ahead. Most were considerate.
A few times we suffered last minute callers, late arrivers, or the worst—no shows. Once a group threw an impromptu party without asking our permission. But, overall, we loved being trail angels.
Three years after we finished hiking the Israel Trail, the condition of Allan’s older sister, Sherrie, with multiple sclerosis, sharply deteriorated. He flew to California and was with her when she succumbed to the disease. On the day that he arrived home after the funeral, to sit shiva (the traditional seven day mourning period) I got a phone call from a hiker who needed a place to stay. I explained that given the circumstances, we could only offer a place to sleep. I apologized that we wouldn’t be able to give him food or even take the time to hang out and talk, which we usually loved doing.
The next morning I found the following note addressed not to us, but other hikers, in the trail journal we left for our guests. “Last night convinced me that my trail experiences can help me grow personally and interpersonally. From this point forward the trail has taken on a new meaning and I’ve learned two things:
1) Give to others even if you have the best reasons in the world to say no.
2) What is the purpose of my hiking, aside from getting to the next point? Tzippi mentioned they had done the trail as a fundraiser in memory of Allan’s mother. Amazing. So, dear hikers, you’ve reached half-way and the choice is up to you. Simply think about it, without being too heavy, as what you’re carrying on your back is weight enough.”
I still feel like an angel in training. I try to remember that God is in the little details. A cold beer on an ungodly hot day can lift the spirit, a few encouraging words can keep hikers going when they think they can’t, and a good hot meal is always welcome. And I like to think that each of these small gestures may be creating a few more angels here on earth.