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The International Writers Magazine:Galilee (Before Covid)

Mount Tabor, Israel and the Sternbergia lutea
• Neil Manspeizer
Mount Tabor is located in the lower Galilee region of Israel. From its slopes one may look toward the Plain of Megiddo. This spot is believed to be the exact location where the world will one day end.
Photo: Mt Tabor -

Mt Tabor

Yet, once a year on this very same place blooms a very hardy flower. The Sternbergia lutea is a bulb in the Narcissus family. The yellow flower only blooms in the fall after the rains. Then the Plain of Megiddo and the slopes of Mount Tabor are filled with yellow. The significance becomes almost biblical. Although, Armageddon seemed very far away last fall when we went to see the Sternbergia lutea. We travelled with two other families. Each of us with a small child and child carrier.

The trip was uneventful and shortly we arrived to the lower Galilee. We drove through the Bedouin village at the base of Mount Tabor. Parking was a challenge as our destination was popular but soon we were on foot and climbing toward the Church of the Transfiguration. This was the spot where Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah. It was also the place where Deborah's army defeated the Canaanites. At the summit we stopped for a quick picnic in the craggy limestone geography. The children feasted on pancakes while the adults ate bourekas (baked pastry). Then we joined the clearly marked trail and set out to find the Sternbergia lutea. The entire route of the trail lay within the Mount Tabor Nature Reserve.

The craggy bedrock made the hiking difficult but the trail was wide. Soon the children were laughing as they sat within their seats. Hiking carriers are a great way to explore the natural landscape with your children. The trail wound down the slope of Mount Tabor toward a pine forest. These pine forests had been planted in the 1940's to prevent erosion. They were a welcome addition to the already rich oak forest found in the area.

Sternbergia Lutea At the edge of the forest we encountered our first Sternbergia lutea. In Hebrew they are named after the yolk of the egg (chelmonit) because they are so yellow. This is an understatement and the yellow looks more like fresh latex paint. The flower is a six-petal bulb that sprouts with no leaf and is most certainly narcissistic.

At the bottom of the slope and in the shade of the pine trees we stopped for a rest. Small children should rest often when hiking and stop frequently for water breaks. This gave them an adequate chance to feel the pine needles under their feet and smell the fresh air. We lay a blanket out on the forest floor and invited them to drink. When they had their fill they quickly began to explore. The temperature was pleasant as the Galilee is quite agreeable in the late fall. Below we could hear the Bedouin village and a soccer match. But all around were the sounds of the planted forest and the colorful jays crowing. We could just imagine sly fox and other forest animals padding around the pine trees.

After the suitable rest we decided to continue on our way along the slope of the mountain. The trail was filled with families and flower enthusiasts alike. The Sternbergia lutea only blooms for a short time of roughly two weeks. Along the slope the trail began to narrow and we were forced into single file. Thus we spent half an hour of very enjoyable hiking in the sun. The limestone appeared almost yellow due to the Sternbergia lutea. The trail became a thin brown lace and the outside world disappeared. Finally we found a suitable spot amidst the rocks where we would make tea. One of our hiking crew found some wild za'atar (Middle Eastern herb) which we added to the hot drink. Together we sat and shared our tea and a small story about Mount Tabor.

"A long time ago there was a village that nestled into the side of the mountain. It overlooked the plain below and was filled with crafty people. They had a wonderful life on the south side of the mountain and a very rich culture. The village was constantly seeking new ways to make better decisions about farming and cleanliness. But one day there was a terrible war and a battle on the plain below the village. Luckily, the people were spared and the armies retreated after the battle. But, their fields were ruined and destroyed and needed to be replanted. So, all of the people, young and old, strong and weak, helped to replant the fields.

Soon the crops were growing again and the people were hopeful for a happy future. They realized that other villages would also be in a difficult situation. So, the people decided to sell their crops for a profit. This way the villagers made extra money and were able to buy new products. Their god was a very modest god who wanted the people to also be modest. But, all of the new products were very special and caused the village to get excited. This placed them in a predicament with their god although they chose their new products wisely. Soon they had new wells for their water and a way to empty the trash from the village.

The other towns in the area were very jealous and had to pay a high price to stay equal. Even the education system in the village became great and a regional school was established. Children from all sides of the mountain would travel to the village to study. This was very special and the cause of great celebration. The mountain became famous for having established a college of learning. Even the little children would enter schools at a young age to learn the wisdom. The village became very wealthy as a result of all the business and attention.

Their god was happy with the outcome and so were the villagers. The lesson that the people learned was that in the face of adversity they should work together. But their goal should be for a communal and individual profit. In this way, their modest god and their own human nature seemed to conflict. So, the people declared a religious holiday and called it Being. During this holiday the people contemplated their own value and god's wrath. The Sternbergia lutea played an important role as the holiday was held during its bloom. Still to this day descendants of the area celebrate their being in the late fall."

Finally it was time to climb back up the slope. We wound our way up the limestone bedrock as the children began to tire. Their expectations of an adventure were certainly more than fulfilled. The mountain where human nature meets god was a fitting lesson. The combination of narcissism and Armageddon truly divine. As the sun began its journey downward we reached our cars. There the children would slumber in dreams of yellow flowers and egg yolks. We decided to continue our adventure and eat a traditional lunch at a local restaurant. Bedouin restaurants in the Galilee are known for their generous hospitality.

Following a short drive, which allowed the children to nap, we found the restaurant. It was located, as in many of the Arab restaurants, behind a gas station near Mount Tabor. Don't let the appearances fool you. The food selection was outstanding from the grilled meats to the countless salads. This included Humus (chickpeas), Tehina (sesame), Taboule (bulgur) and stuffed grape leaves with fresh pita bread. Our three families were soon refueling all of the calories that we spent while hiking. The conversation was pleasant and the restaurant was filled with families on Saturday afternoon.

The Bedouin waiters were soon expertly carrying plates of grilled meats, chicken steaks and lamb patties. The air was thick with the aroma of savoriness and the patrons were feasting gladly. The restaurant sounded like a song with the clicking of silverware on plates and the impassioned hum of banter. Cups of sweet coffee flowed and even deserts such as knafeh (pastry with syrup) following the main courses. Then, to our dismay the fantastic trip was at an end. We piled back into our cars and the children were filled with laughter. Before long we joined the traffic back to the country's center. Our children were deep in slumber and the adults were content.

If you go, the Church of the Transfiguration is open Sunday through Friday, 8:00-12:00 am and 2:00-5:00 pm. Also, there is a Franciscan Sanctuary located on Mount Tabor where Holy Land pilgrims may seek lodging. For more information see The trails in the Tabor Nature Reserve are open to the public throughout the year and have no specific daily hours.

© Neil Manspeizer March 2016
neil at

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