Welcome to Mevo'ot Yericho! Caravan homes can be seen in the background
In 1977, when I made aliyah, I lived for a year on a kibbutz deep in the Jordan Valley. Hot-hotter-hottest: that's my memory of the Valley! On the few exciting times we travelled to Jerusalem, the Egged bus would make a long stop at Jericho, the ancient biblical city.
Truthfully, like many English immigrants, I mainly knew about Jericho from the words of the popular song, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down.” Suddenly I was there, in that luscious biblical oasis; it was green, rich, and peaceful with shops full of exotic beautiful fruits.
Fast forward to 1994. My kibbutz life was long forgotten when Jericho was handed over to the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo accords. We still had access to the Shalom al Yisrael synagogue there – until the intifada in 2000.
The Torah scroll from the synagogue was saved and taken to Mevo’ot Yericho, the nearest West Bank settlement. Now 15 years later, I’ll take you there to visit.
I like to catch the 961 bus from Jerusalem bus station. It’s always an adventure, this line to Tiberias! For me, this is the real Israel, not the cynical Israel of the city.
Travelers of all ages and types are going home, going on holiday, going everywhere. I’m always in awe of the bus drivers and how they cope with all the pressure: yet time and again, I see them do good deeds quietly, like letting on a passenger who can't pay, or giving a kind word.
A new housing project in Mevo'ot Yericho
Don’t laugh, but I do think one of the righteous 36 will be a bus driver!
Off we go, the bus packed with people and luggage. I try to sit in the front so I don't miss my stop.
Down Bar Ilan Street, past Shmuel Hanevi, through a tunnel – then, like magic, here we are in the dazzling light, racing down between the Judean mountains towards the Dead Sea.
The radio blaring, the view breathtaking – how good to get out of the city. We travel past the camels and the Bedouin camps (where I notice a few rooftops are made out of Israeli road signs!)
Now we slow down and turn north at Kvish Habika, a long, long road. The earth is dry and dusty. We can see Jordan so close, separated from us just by a fence. The odd monastery, garden center or moshav, mainly NOTHING on both sides.
About half an hour later, I alight at Moshav Naama where, thankfully, my lift is waiting in her car.
We turn down a twisting road, through an Arab village, then out into nowhere, nothing, until suddenly there it is, Mevo’ot Yericho – standing green and sweet like a dream.
In we go, past the young soldiers manning the gate, finding a place in the parking lot, next to the community center. It’s already late in the afternoon.
Children seem to be everywhere, with groups of friends, parents with babies. There’s a basketball game going on around us.
The settlement is surrounded by a wire fence, but what you notice is that on one side it's surrounded by vast, bare, brown mountains.
There are around 30 young families here, in many professions, living mainly in mobile homes. These are arranged like on a small kibbutz, with paths shaded by overhanging trees.
These people choose not to live in the city, mainly for ideological reasons or just because they want a simpler way of life. It’s not an easy place to live, in that heat.
Collecting wood for a Lag B’Omer bonfire
No bus service goes there; there’s no swimming pool. For those luxuries, you have to drive to Yitav, the parent settlement nearby. There’s no grocery store so if you can't organize your shopping list it's not for you! You can't nip out to Aroma for a quick coffee. But you CAN have great quality of life.
Until age six, the children have everything they need there. After that, they have transport to school in Mitzpe Yericho, 40 minutes away. They tell me it's not a long journey – it’s fun.
There’s a new mikveh, a library, and even Zumba classes for the women on Tuesday night.
There is a boarding school called Ginat Eden for disadvantaged girls, who run a farm during the day and study in Jerusalem at night. All this energy in the small dynamic place that’s Mevo’ot Yericho.
There is a young resident rabbi and although it’s not a scientific observation, I can't help but feel how our religion seems to fit this way of life more naturally than in the tenements of Bnei Brak.
Night falls. Excitement rises as we make plans for a bonfire. A small army of kids and I pile up the wood and soon the black desert night is lit up by the flames. We sit round. Someone strums a guitar. There's a peace you can't find in the city.
In the morning, after a good night's sleep, I sit outside with my tea enjoying the quiet. Suddenly, from all directions I see streams of children running to catch the school bus. Inexplicably, I think of “Little House on the Prairie”.
My visit comes to a close – I have a lift back to Jerusalem.