Updated: May 18, 2020
[written February 2018]
Before my husband and I went to live in the desert for four months we wanted to experience the mountains and greenery that is the north of Israel. I had only ever visited Israel in July and August, so to experience the North when it is green and flowering was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
We planned to spend one night camping, and two nights in a tzimmer in Beit Hillel. The campsite our first night was so special and so secret that I’m not going to include many details here. All I will say is that we camped on the Kinneret on our own private beach. We grabbed firewood from a friend’s kibbutz, cracked open a couple of Goldstars, and feasted on tchina and cucumber and Abadi cookies – a savory, buttery, sesame biscuit to which I am now deeply addicted.
Abadi cookies. My mouth is already watering.
Our view in the morning was this:
Technically sunset but who cares?
The next day we did a beautiful 6 km hike in Avnei Eitan. It’s famous for having two waterfalls – The White Falls and the Black Falls. You hack your way through the brush a bit, and then you’re meandering alongside cows and rows of sabras along the base of a nachal.
The Black Falls המפל מים השחר
The White Falls המפל מים הלבן
The importance of water never leaves your mind when hiking in Israel. Not simply because of the necessity of bringing enough water to hydrate in a water-starved climate, but also because most of the hiking trails I have done follow either current or ancient river beds. Even in the Arava desert where I am living now, you can usually spot a trail by following the few spots of green brush, which line an ancient creek bed.
After our hike and an EPIC lunch at Moti Hummus outside of Qiryat Shmona, Eitan and I made our way to our rented room in the moshav of Beit Hillel, tired and ready to shower. We arrived and waited for Carmela, the owner of the tzimmerim to come back from picking up her grand daughter from gan or kindergarten. When she, her grand daughter, and husband arrived, so did RIKA.
Rika. Post bath in the Hatzbani river.
There are some moments in life when you interact with a human or an animal, that are so pure, so full of love and spontaneous connection that you cannot help but believe in the divine. Our 48 hours with Rika was one of those moments. Immediately upon meeting us, Rika followed us to our room. We got settled in, and decided we needed to bite the bullet and walk to find groceries before we turned in for the evening. We opened our front door and started walking out of the B&B. Out of nowhere Rika ran up and joined us. She walked us the entire way to the grocery store, about a fifteen minute walk. “What a sweetie,” my husband and I commented to each other. It felt so nice to have a companion, but we assumed once we started shopping that she would depart. Twenty minutes later, we are in line to check out, and we see Rika, sitting outside, waiting for us. (!!!!!)
Rika led us home, having patiently waited for us to shop. She followed us right to our front porch, and there she stayed.
I get emotional even thinking about the love we experienced with Rika. She stayed on our porch late into the night (protecting us from some moshav cats). When we woke up in the morning and went to sit outside with our coffee, she was there. “Rika will show you,” Carmela responded to us whenever we asked about how to get to a specific hike, or wanted to know the way to the Hatzbani River. “She’s a good madricha.” Sure enough, if we left to go on an adventure and shouted for her, she came running, and expertly guided us. For the next two days, Rika hardly left our side.
Living her best life.
I grew up an only child with two cats in Vermont. Perhaps for those of you raised with dogs and being with animals that you know, actually love you, this extraordinary canine’s behavior isn’t unusual. For me however, I was overwhelmed. Even my husband, stridently a “dog person,” was touched by Rika’s love and companionship. We discovered that Carmela’s husband Moti was a retired veterinarian. We gushed to him over Rika, over what an incredible dog she was. Moti smiled, and told us how they had used to have two other dogs before Rika. In 2006 during the war with Lebanon, shells shot over the border and mountains and into their moshav. Shrapnel from the shells fatally maimed their previous dogs in their yard. I can’t imagine what that must have been like to emerge from your bomb shelter in this idyllic looking valley, only to find your pets dead or dying. I looked at Rika. She was living truly the best life any dog could ask for: total freedom, space to run around, people to play with and to feed her.
I’ve continued to think about Rika in the weeks since we’ve left Beit Hillel, and I still get emotional considering her beautiful eyes and loving partnership. Again, for people who grew up with dogs, loyalty comes with the breed, and her demeanor isn’t extraordinary. For me, a stranger here, who struggles to connect in Hebrew, having the loving devotion of this dog came at a time when I didn’t even know I needed it. Her affection for us bonded us together, and I am better for knowing her. Love your animals, love yourselves, love the environment. It’s all connected.