* Bittersweet Serendipity while Cycling Near Shaar Hagai

The plan for yesterday morning’s bike ride was a loop from the Latrun Monastery to Shaar Hagai and back — in the same vicinity as last week’s Israel Trail hike, but on different trails.

After cycling for about 40 minutes, we reached our intended turn-around point. Pausing to catch our breath at a junction on the steep climb up Givat Hatul, we did a quick rethink of our route choice. We decided that instead of turning off the trail, we would walk/push our bikes a short distance further to the top of the ridge, after which we would be riding on flat or downhill trails.

When we reached the top of the ridge, we were surprised and delighted! An amazing vista point overlooking Shaar Hagai. What a view! Engraved plaques present maps and history of the Burma Road and the environs.

And there, too, I was pleased, in a bittersweet way, to find the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) Memorial honoring North Americans who have fallen while in service to the State of Israel or as victims of terror. The forest on the ridge itself was established by the AACI in conjunction with the Jewish National Fund.

 AACI Memorial honoring North Americans who have fallen while in service to the State of Israel or as victims of terror

AACI Memorial honoring North Americans who have fallen while in service to the State of Israel or as victims of terror

I had not been at the memorial since its dedication in the 1980s. In fact, I could not recall its exact location, and remembered only that it was near Beit Shemesh. I did not realize it was here in Rabin Park (Eshtaol Forest) overlooking Shaar Hagai. Despite many orienteering events and jeep excursions in this area, none had ever brought me to this lookout point.

Many, too many, names have been added to the memorial plaques over the years. The names date back to the 1920s. Some are well-known, such as  Col. Mickey Marcus killed in 1948, and photographer Gail Rubin killed by terrorists in 1978. Some names I know through a 2nd “degree of separation”. And others I knew personally: Frank Gilford from Texas, a Young Judaea friend and member of my Year Course group, who was killed while serving in the IDF in 1982; Yaniv Bar-on from Maccabim, son of my friends Carleen and Asher, who was killed on the first day of the Second War in Lebanon in 2006. May their memories be blessed.

The name of Frank Gilford, of blessed memory, on the AACI Memorial

The name of Frank Gilford, of blessed memory, on the AACI Memorial

The name of Yaniv Bar-on, of blessed memory, on the AACI Memorial

The name of Yaniv Bar-on, of blessed memory, on the AACI Memorial

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