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Ex-Chief IDF Rabbi Finds Peace on Nature Trail

After retiring as top military rabbi, Brig-Gen. (res.) Avichai Ronsky hiked the Israel Trail with his wife.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 1/25/2011, 1:01 PM / Last Update: 1/25/2011, 1:15 PM

Bamachaneh

When Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avichai Ronsky completed his four-year term as IDF Chief Rabbi, he made a decision similar to that of many Israelis who finish their military service: he took a very long hike.

Instead of going to the Far East or South America, as most young Israelis do, the rabbi chose to hike through the Land of Israel, on the Israel Trail that runs down from Tel Dan at the country's northern extremity to Eilat at its southern tip.  

"After many treks I did in the army, I decided - after being discharged - to get to know the land together with my wife," he told military journal BaMachaneh. "In the last six months of the service, we discussed what we would do, in fact, in the months of the end-of-service leave [the vacation that military people receive just before being discharged - ed.]. We decided to go on a hike, with large knapsacks on our backs and the whole thing. We started at Tel Dan and along the whole trail we slept over at good people's homes. You meet fascinating people, getting acquainted with our nation on the Trail is wonderful."

Even the cows were calm
Ronsky thinks that "airing out one's head" is a necessity after a long term of service in the stressful military environment. "Suddenly you are walking through nature and everything is quiet all around," he says. "When I was Chief Military Rabbi, my bureau scheduled was full two weeks in advance, and there was a tentative schedule for the entire month to come. They tell you - 'you are there tomorrow and over there on the day after tomorrow,' and these are things that you do not always want to do, but others decide for you. It is a great joy to be completely free, because the folks who run your life - sometimes it is too much. And when we walked the Trail, even the cow herds we met, especially in the North, were quiet. You walk among them and they are calm and chew their grass. It was very special, we were completely disconnected."
 
The problem with a hike through Israel, when you are Rabbi Ronsky, is that people recognize you. "I remember that on our first Sabbath on the Trail we slept over at a unique family's home at Ein Hod," Ronsky told BaMachaneh. "They were not religious, but all day long they told me that I looked familiar from somewhere. It was funny. There were also admirers. One day someone stopped his car and just chased after us. He was teary-eyed with excitement."
 
The couple did meet some old friends, and spent one of the nights on the trail in the home of Maj.-Gen. Gershon HaCohen, Commander of the Military Colleges. Ronsky, who will soon turn 60, has 15 grandchildren. He needs quality time with his family, he said, and he got it on the Israel Trail. "For four straight years I was not home, so we had wonderful quality time together," he recalled. "Strengthening the bond with my wife was an important aspect of the hike. We did not talk much, we walked quietly, each one taking interest in his own things, but we were together."