Some of the most graceful places in the country are to be found in the Lower Galilee. The itinerary of the Yodfat Mound and Atzmon Mountain trail reveals the story of both places and their remarkable beauty. History rumbles and reverberates on the slopes of the Yodfat Mound and evokes memories from the time of the First Jewish-Roman War. Your breathing speeds up as you climb the slope, via the Galilean forest of Atzmon Mountain that leads to a spectacular view of the land.
The landscape from this peak, from horizon to horizon, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee, unfolds in front of the eyes. The rest of the itinerary eventually shares the secrets of two springheads of which legendary tale is linked to their names. All in all it amounts to a circular trail of 6 km [3.7 mile] that takes 4 to 5 hours to complete.
This itinerary is rated as moderate and it is suitable for the whole family – the climb is neither difficult nor short and really entails some effort, but for all of its beauty and landscapes it is worth it.
How to Get There
If you have arrived on Route 77 turn left in the HaMovil Junction and after 0.5 km [0.311 mile] at the Yiftachel Junction turn right to Route 7914 that changes later into Route 784. 1.5 km [0.932 mile] after passing the Kaukab Abu al Hija village turn right to Route 7955 (in the direction of Yodfat, Hararit, and Avtalion). 500 m [1640 f] after this turn notice that there is a descent that winds right toward a dirt road and a road sign directing you toward Yodfat Mound and Atzmon Mountain. . Immediately upon descending to the dirt road which both regular and 4WD vehicles can drive on choose the left-hand road in this Y junction. Drive on the green-marked dirt road on the footpath marking map system (however, it is not yet marked on the map). On this dirt road which is drivable for all vehicles, turn left at the first junction and turn left again at the next turn (which is next to the back-gate of Yodfat). After 2 km [1.2 mile] you'll come to a large forest where you will park the car  and only return to it at the end of the trail.
Another option to get to Yodfat is by turning eastward from Avalyim Junction on Route 70.
After parking the vehicle, walk back north about 100 m [328 f] on the same dirt road that leads here until you reach a turn to a red-marked dirt road. Continue along this path 1 km [0.620 mile] until you get to Yodfat Mound . On your left side you will see Moshav Yodfat on the ridge of the Yodfat Mountains. The Moshav was established in 1960. The first years saw conditions of isolation within the Arab population, infertile land and insufficient water. Employment was found planting JNF forests and helping immigrants in the Segev community. The first inhabitants of Yodfat were members of Gar’in Yuvalim, an initiating core group, who were students of Dr. Josef Schachter and were called by the public “HaSchachterists”. Dr. Schachter (1901 – 1994) was an educator, thinker, and writer whose teaching was essentially different from what was commonly accepted during the first years of the country. At the beginning of the 1950s a group of his pupils, from the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa, gathered and consolidated around him, and his conviction that man must strive to dig out for a deeper intellectual and psychological dimension in his soul won favor with them. They decided to establish a unique gar’in of their own right to fulfill their thoughts and way of life, the credo his teaching made so intelligible to them. The gar’in went through various vicissitudes until it settled down in Yodfat. Read more about the philosophy of Dr. Josef Schachter at the end of this itinerary
The Yodfat Mound
Yodfat Mound has seen a fascinating history in the various eras of the Jewish nation, but mostly during the First Jewish-Roman War. Starting in 67 AD and ending in 70 AD with the destruction of the Second Temple, this revolt broke out in many regions in the country, the Galilee being one of them. The command of the Galilee area was given to Yoseph Ben Mattithyahu who set Yodfat as his headquarters. The Romans, headed by the imperator Vaspasian, worked to suppress the revolt by occupying these islands of resistance. Among others, it took the Romans a complicated siege and battle to conquer the Jewish city Gamla in the Golan Heights and Gush Halav in the Upper Galilee. In the following you can find a taste of the history of the Jewish nation of that period:
A desperate fight was waged in the year 67. Yodfat (in Latin Jotapata) was built to withstand a prolonged siege. This is clearly illustrated in Mattithyahu’s The War of the Jews III C 7:7:
Now Jotapata is almost all of it built on a precipice, having on all the other sides of it every way valleys immensely deep and steep, insomuch that those who would look down would have their sight fail them before it reaches to the bottom. It is only to be come at on the north side, where the utmost part of the city is built on the mountain, as it ends obliquely at a plain. This mountain Josephus had encompassed with a wall when he fortified the city, that its top might not be capable of being seized upon by the enemies. The city is covered all round with other mountains, and can no way be seen till a man comes just upon it. And this was the strong situation of Jotapata.
We really climb to the head of the mound that looks relatively bare today from the north, it is a more moderate slope. From here it is very easy to understand the Yoseph Ben Mattithyahu's description of the geography of the mound. And yet these natural advantages didn’t satisfy Ben Mattithyahu who fortified the city with a wall and dug water cisterns for the event of a siege. This can be reflected in The Life of Flavius Josephus 37: “I also fortified, in the Lower Galilee, the [several] cities […]and Jotapata…. I also laid up a great quantity of corn in these places and arms withal, that might be for their security afterward.”
But the Romans had rough and ready siege methods at hand. They battered the city with, as can be seen from the archeological diggings, arrows with iron heads, ballistas, and erected a huge rampart by heaping earthwork near the wall.
From the outlook to the north one can picture the 160 catapults that were installed by the imperator Vaspasian to kill the defenders, the Roman camp that consisted of many thousands of soldiers including calvarias, infantries, sling shooters, and archers. One can imagine in their mind’s eye that instead of a bare hill there is a bustling city withstanding a spiteful and cruel siege.
The besieged defenders used varied methods for protection including throwing rolling stones on the Romans, defending the wall from the battering ram by spreading sacks full of straw and chaff on it and by burning the rams with torches, throwing boiling oil from above and spreading the rampart wooden decks with cooked fenugreeks (that through boiling become soft as butter and extremely slick) to the effect of making the bridges too slippery to cross. More than once the defenders stole away during the siege and assaulted the Roman camp or brought supplies and ammunition to the encompassed city. Simultaneously with the heightening of the rampage, Yoseph Ben Mattithyahu ordered the wall to be to raised and even used ox skins to protect the builders from arrows. Despite this resourcefulness after 47 days of siege, in June 20th 67 AD, the wall was penetrated.
Many of the inhabitants of Yodfat committed suicide; others were killed in face to face combat, and those who found shelter in caves were slaughtered unmercifully. The Roman had captured hardly 1,200 men and the death toll, tells Yoseph Ben Mattithyahu, reached 40,000 people. At the end of the battle only 40 rebels were left and they found refuge in a cave, their commander, Yoseph Ben Mattithyahu, stayed among them. After a poignant speech, Yoseph convinced his warriors to commit suicide with him (in the same manner of Masada’s warriors). After series of lotteries only he and another warrior remained alive. Meanwhile the Romans searched for Yoseph among all the casualties and captives, but to no avail, until one woman disclosed where he was concealed. The Romans sent their captains of thousands who tried to persuade him to surrender. After his refusal, they started to burn the cave where he had hid himself. At last, Yoseph decided that it would be better if he lived and he gave himself up to the Romans.
Yoseph Ben Mattithyahu became a captive of the Romans. During his captivity he had predicted to Vaspasian that the latter was to become the emperor of Rome instead of Nero. After the fulfillment of that prophecy, Yoseph Ben Mattithyahu became Josephus Flavius, the central historian of the First Jewish-Roman War and under this capacity he wrote the Antiquities of the Jews andWar of the Jews, two books which have become the main source of information about the history of the Second Temple Period.
Take a short tour at the head of the mound and take a look at all the water cisterns and shallow stone-curved connecting tunnels that served to store rain water. Walk carefully since some of the holes are unmarked. During one archeological excavation a huge pile of human bones was discovered in one of the holes, probably remnants of the victims of that battle. Recently, a monument was erected at the foot of the mound on the access path to commemorate them.
Follow the blue markings and notice the ruins of the wall. Walk toward southwest when you descend from the mound. With the somewhat steep gradient you will encounter, not for the first time, the impressive landscape of the Lower Galilee. The typical flora will accompany you on your way: oaks, carobs, olive trees, terebinths, briskly hollyhocks, corn poppies, spiny brooms, thorny burnets, Steven’s meadow saffron, cyclamens, sage-leaved rock-rose, Cretan rock-rose and more.
The path declines to the bottom of the streambed and then gradually climbs up toward Atzmon Mountain. Climb 0.5 km [0.311 mile] until the footpath intersects with an unpaved road  where our trail takes a right. After walking another 250 m [820 f] on the dirt road the blue-marked trail turns left and continues to climb toward the peak of the mountain. Notice that sometimes the marking can be evasive and you will have to search for it in the area. During their blossoming period, you can discover some impressive orchids.
There is no doubt that climbing there warrants the effort and that the landscape seen from the head of the Atzmon is breathtaking . Far away in the west you can see the Mediterranean Sea, Haifa Bay, and the Carmel and to the south, the Beit Netofa Valley, the Galilean mountains, and most prominently – the Sea of Galilee.
Yoseph Ben Mattithyahu said about Atzmon Mt.:
while the seditious part and the robbers ran away to that mountain which lies in the very middle of Galilee, and is situated over against Sepphoris; it is called Asamon […].; but while those men were in the superior parts above the Romans, they easily threw their darts upon the Romans, as they made their approaches, and slew about two hundred of them. But when the Romans had gone round the mountains, and were gotten into the parts above their enemies, the others were soon beaten; nor could they who had only light armor on sustain the force of them that fought them armed all over; nor when they were beaten could they escape the enemies' horsemen; insomuch that only some few concealed themselves in certain places hard to be come at, among the mountains, while the rest, above two thousand in number, were slain.
[The war of the Jews II Chapter 18: 11]
Today only ruins of small double-walled fort and a burial tomb can be found at the peak. However, this is a splendid place for a coffee or lunch break, just try to leave the place clean after you leave. The Beit Netofa Valley that lies at the foot of Atzmon Mountain is the biggest of the Lower Galilee’s valleys. In winter, the valley is partly flooded and that explains why it does not enclose any villages, but during springtime the mosaic of agricultural plots is beautifully picturesque. Today the 16 km long and 3 km wide valley [10 X 2 miles] is intersected by a canal of the National Water Carrier of Israel which can be very easily spotted winding in the vale. In its western part, the Carrier spills into the broad water pools of the Eshkol Site, from which it is boosted south by a system of tunnels and pipes, to the Costal Plane and Negev. South of the valley one can identify the Tur’an Mountain and the Beit Rimon community on its head and south of it the Nazareth Mountain Chain, and the Tzippori (Sepphoris)National Park at its northern rib.
From the top go straight down to the footpath on which you’ll turn east (left) an additional 200 m until it coalesces with a black-marked path . Continue right on this orbit and follow a leveled contour line . In about 200 m [656 f] you will reach an intersection of the black and blue-marked footpaths. Take the path with the blue-marking that curves right, i.e.. westward. The descent that starts on a moderate slope gradually becomes a goat path whilst sometime along it the trail cuts windingly to the left and steeply leads us down among the terebinth trees, rocks, and the naturally-made terraces down below to the wadi. Here too you’ll descent in a sharp gradient and be cautious not to slip there.
Upon reaching the foot of Atzmon Mountain, you’ll meet with the two Avelaim headsprings: Ein el-Kaziza and Ein el-Wasta . In both the water spills among the veil of southern maidenhair fern each one to a quite large storing pool, and though the color of their floors is really greenish, the waters are quite clean. These are fracture springs that have enough water all year long and you can wade your feet in the pools. The problem is that they are known to many people and thus too often they are spoiled with waste. This is the time to manifest good hiking responsibilities and to clean this rubbish up even though it is not yours.
The legend about the springs tells that during the days of Saldin (in the 12th century AD) a great Muslim hero lived in this area who even participated in the victory of the Battle of Hattin. His name was Husam Abu el-Hijah and his nickname – el-Saman, namely the fat guy. According to the story he was so fat that while he rode his horse his belly dangled over the ground. The story goes that while el-Hijah and his soldiers parked near this spring, a pregnant woman came to the spring and sought to quench her thirst; however el-Hijah’s men didn’t let her. In hearing about it, el-Hijah raged greatly since they didn’t feel compassion toward a pregnant woman. As punishment, he told them that they were banned from drinking the fresh spring water ; as a matter of fact, suddenly the spring stopped flowing. The warriors perceived that they had done her wrong, followed the tracks of the pregnant woman, brought her back to the water source, and when she drank the water, the spring immediately resumed flowing.
From here the trail continues north and you should follow it another kilometer. And since it passes through the bed of the Avelaim Stream (an ephemeral stream) that also serves for irrigating crops and building purposes for the people of the Kaukab Abu al-Hija village, perhaps it will not be simple to find the blue-marked footpath. About 1 km [0.620 mile] from the springs is a road that splits right (eastward) to a red-marked dirt road . Go this way and after another 1.25 km [0.777 mile] this road will take you back to the forest where you left your vehicle .
More sites to visit in this area
After this enjoyable trail a good idea may be to visit the Monkey Forest [Park HaKofim] in Moshav Yodfat . Simply return to the dirt road with the green-marked footpath and drive toward the access road of Yodfat  and follow the signs.
The park is a great pleasure for children and adults as well. It hosts many animals, among which some species of monkeys, and to a greater degree – some wild animals that walk freely in the park. Prices on Shabbat child + parent NIS 29; during weekdays or with a group prices are cheaper. Entrance of children younger than 3 years of age is free. Opening hours: from 09:00 AM everyday; closing hours depending the season. Tel.:+972-4-9801265; internet site: http://kofim.co.il/kofim/offer.htm
Visit the coffee shop and rustic deli In Collina near the Monkey Forest. Although the prices at the café are not cheap, you’ll enjoy the good food and unique atmosphere. Tel. 04-9800410
In addition you can read more about visiting the nearby Shekhanya Cave.
About Dr. Yoseph Schachter
A monograph about his philosophy/ by his son Dr. Tzvi Schachter
His many writings delineate an original ideological program that centers around educating for values in general and Jewish values in particular. These were references for his pupils and readers that helped them distinguish between contents that are rich with values (contents with essence) and value-free contents that also prompted them to integrate between the experience and the cognition. He exposed them to the super-humane side of man which must be nurtured and strengthened constantly in order to have a meaningful life. He and his pupils used to delve in selected texts that he drew from Jewish and general cultural sources to helphis followers formulate a worldview, which should be based neither on an academic or verbal attitude but merely on an ideological one. His resources were drawn basically from the Bible, Mishnaic legends, and Hasidism. The texts from different world cultures were highly multifarious, e.g. from the writings of Kierkegaard, Jung, Erich Fromm, Zen-Buddhism, Yoga and meditation, as well as from the philosophies of Gurdjieff, Feldenkrais, and M. Alexander. He lived with the expectation that contemporary man is on the verge of a turning point that will eventually give meaning to modern life and he saw himself as one of its advocates. He was privileged with the right of priority in these references and his research , and some see him as the harbinger of the New Age in Israel.
Dr. Schachter emphasized the deep dimension of the cognitive and psychological realms of the soul that consists in its core-essence, the individual and his inner world. This emphasis was very far from the spirit that prevailed during the 1940s’ and 1950s in the educational and public spheres of Israel. In the same manner he emphasized the distinction between the essentialist attitude and the usual-verbal one. Both emphases drew many adherents to him, young people who were consciously or unconsciously searching for meaning in their lives. In the beginning of the 1950s a group of pupils from the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa was consolidated around his person with the aspiration of putting ideology into practice according to his teaching. They decided to found a unique gar’in, an initiating core group, of their own, through which they intended to fulfill the thoughts and way of life that were made so intelligible to them by his teachings.
The Gar’in went through many vicissitudes until it settled down in Yodfat. Schachter himself didn’t live in Yodfat but maintained connections with his pupils and the pupils of his pupils in his home and Yodfat. Over the years Yodfat went through many changes, but some of its people kept their ties with Schachter until his death in Nissan 5754. Some may claim that the basic tendencies of his teaching are still extant in today’s Yodfat. Yodfat’s synagogue is named after him – Ohel Yosef and the nearby playground is named after his wife Neta (d. in 5759). Also there is the library in Yodfat which stores all the books, booklets, and articles he wrote.
Tiuli - Trips, hikes, tourism and Travel in Israel
Travel safely, take a map with you, keep it clean and above all, enjoy your trip and travel.
Yochai Corem - Contact
Comments from Tiuli website