“The more you say, the less they’ll hear; that’s the Golden Rule of Guiding.”

It was 1985, and we were at the end of the nature guides’ course of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, and after learning about history and plants and animals and geology, it was time to learn how to present it all. 

It seemed that the hardest thing to decide was what *not* to say. Too many dates, too many new names, too much information – it can all just confuse hikers, who usually just want to go and have a good time out in nature. The amount and intensity of “hiker internalization” is inversely proportional to the amount of words said by the guide. “Don’t ruin it for them!” – these were the words our director said before parting…
Many years later, at Livnot, I realized that these rules had even more importance than I had previously thought. We’re not dealing with Israelis here, who will often be hiking regularly. We’re dealing with people who come from afar for only 10 weeks, and they might never come back to Israel again, or even hike again in the future.

When we began having 8-week and 6-week programs, the Golden Rule became even greater. And we started running 3-week programs, I began to feel the pressure. “What should I say at this break in the hike? Whatever I say will be instead of something else that won’t be said. What is most important?” The 2-week Livnot program became the greatest challenge. “In less than 14 days, these people will be back in their cubicles, and Israel will be but a dream. What will make the biggest impact?”

Over the years, I have found that the Land of Israel speaks best for herself. She often speaks quietly, but always intensely – like a silent scream. Let people experience her by themselves, and she will make her mark. Too often, though, I find myself rambling; sometimes I walk for hours in silence. But no matter how big my mistakes are, Eretz Yisrael picks up the slack. Isn’t she marvelous?

This week was my first chance to hike with the new Livnot-Birthright program, a 2-week program which will make up the bulk of the Year 2000 schedule. On our way to the Bar-Kochba tunnels, we drove past the battle site of David and Goliath; should I wake up the people sleeping on the bus just to tell them that it was here? Against my better judgment, I did. A few minutes later we climbed a hill to get to a great Bar-Kochba crawling cave; on the way, a caper bush caught my eye. Should I stop? We’re pressed for time. I tossed a mental coin, and we stopped to see what might have been the burning bush. Then we caved for a few hours, crawling and experiencing, breaking the silence with our song. Two days later, we were at Gamla. As the day came to a close, I realized that it was over – this was going to be their entire Israel hiking experience! It was a phenomenal group! But as great as they were, I couldn’t help but feel pessimistic about “hiker internalization.” After all, we only spent a couple of days together…

At the peak of Gamla, I said what I thought had to be said, and then – looking around at the breathtaking view – I asked: “Before we leave, does anyone have questions? Comments? Poetry to be read?” It was a rhetorical question that was meant to emphasize our beautiful surroundings, but one man raised his hand. “I wrote something that I thought I’d read at the end of the program, but I can’t think of a better place to share it than right here.”
As he read his moving poem, I tried my hardest not to cry. I grasped the edge of a stone to help keep myself in control. But as he spoke, the grasp turned into a caress. Thank you, Land of Israel, for picking up my slack. You never, never, ever let me down. As my wife is my soulmate among humans, you are my soulmate among lands.

Shabbat Shalom,

(Note: This article was written twenty years ago in 2000 for Livnot’s weekly alumni newsletter, “xlivnot”. Last week, among our many Zoom-reunions, Program 103 met again, digitally. And once again, after 20 years, the young man who turned out to be Rabbi Baruch Rock shared his poem. See below.)

I wonder if you will remember – I Imagine that you do
one in all all in one I will remember by choice
I will remember you beneath the earth beneath the roots
which like you yearn for life where there is only spirit

by choice I will remember where for the sake of his nation
a young man killed a Giant upon the ground
where green fields now grow by the side of a road     where romans once roamed

I cannot help but remember where I fell upon my knees and wept for my life
before a bush that burned without burning for a man long ago
but to me it appeared lifeless covered with the ashgrey color of death

not here right now it cannot be here
for I remember the land where I was born
far away across a vast drop of water whose deepest depths go no deeper
than those that can be found in the tears of God

I am here and by choice I remember
the sound of a darkness broken by our song as we
sang away the sabbath’s end some seven suns ago

and yet still I remember more so much more, ever so much more
saturated earth we as one earth movers again
below the earth where the stones shed tears
perchance something might grow

I wonder if you will rememberI Imagine that you do

Brian A. Rock
Long Island, NY
Livnot 103

Written by 

Originally from Syracuse, NY, Meir received his BA in American History and Political Science from Tulane University and his MS in Resource Management from SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry. He arrived in Israel in 1992, served in the Nahal Infantry Unit before moving to Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu. On Kibbutz, Meir was Assistant Manager of the... Read More