In late 2013, a year after his wife of three decades announced she wanted a divorce, Aryeh Green hiked up Yosemite’s Half Dome with his 23-year-old daughter. When they reached the top, Green turned to Moriah and made an announcement of his own.
“I am going to hike Shvil Yisrael [the Israel National Trail],” he proclaimed.
Six months later, Green was on his way.
The San Francisco native and UC Berkeley graduate, who has lived in Israel for nearly 35 years, waved goodbye to some friends who had gathered in Eilat, walked to the trailhead across the street and started the 683-mile trek.
On June 26, Green will share details about that physically and emotionally challenging journey, and his new book about the experience, “My Israel Trail: Finding Peace in the Promised Land,” at Congregation Emanu-El — the San Francisco synagogue that his great-great-grandfather, Gershom Mendes Seixas Solomons, helped found in 1850. The free book talk is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
The Israel National Trail stretches from Eilat in the far south to Kibbutz Dan (near the Lebanese border) in the north. Although Green, 55, had hiked in California, Italy, England and other places around the world, he wanted to do something more radical than climbing Half Dome as a response to his divorce.
Shvil Yisrael, which resource materials say takes six to eight weeks to complete, proved to be the perfect fit.
“I didn’t want to just go back to normal,” he said by phone recently. “I needed a life-changing event.”
Green prepared for his solo expedition by borrowing or purchasing practical necessities (such as a backpack, tent, camp stove and warm sleeping bag), and reading from cover to cover both the English and Hebrew versions of the 180-page Israel National Trail guide. He also came to the emotional realization that despite the devastation of his divorce, his life was not coming to an end.
Still, Green admits that he had no idea what he was getting into.
“What the hell am I doing?” he writes in the opening chapter of the book, which came out last month. “I’m 51 years old … not 21! … Here I am trying to use walking sticks for the first time, my shoulders already hurt after 15 minutes, I’m sweating in the [82-degree] heat, striding up a dirt road I once drove along with the kids and my folks for a lark — and I really just can’t believe it. I’m DOING THIS.”
Green has had a busy and varied professional career since moving to Israel after his 1984 graduation from Cal with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and then earning two master’s degrees, in international relations from Hebrew University and business management from Boston University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
For 10 years, he provided support services to foreign journalists in Israel as the director of MediaCentral, a Jerusalem-based project of HonestReporting (a nonprofit that monitors the media for bias against Israel). He also served as a policy adviser to Natan Sharansky for a decade, and when Sharansky became Israel’s minister of diaspora affairs in 2003, Green became a senior member of his staff.
Currently, he’s the chief strategy officer at Energiya Global, a Jerusalem-based company providing solar power and other forms of clean electricity, particularly in Africa.
The chapter president at Sigma Alpha Mu, a historically Jewish fraternity, at U.C. Berkeley during the 1981-82 school year — back when he was known as Eric — also grows grapes and makes wine in Israel.
Green said it took him 42 days to hike through the changing landscapes of the national trail, from desert to rolling Judean hills. At the halfway point, around Jerusalem, he took various forms of transportation to get to the northernmost part of the trail, then started hoofing it back toward Jerusalem so he could triumphantly finish his journey by walking into his hometown of Beit Shemesh (about 20 miles west of Jerusalem). He said he left a fair share of both physical and emotional baggage behind, dropping nearly 18 pounds.
Acknowledging several lessons he learned along the way — including humility, forgiveness and a sense of purpose — Green also reframed the pain of his divorce.
“Mourning the death of a marriage is as painful as losing a loved one,” he explained. “It’s not like you get beyond it. It becomes part of you. I didn’t leave the sadness behind. I learned to live with it. I left little pieces of the pain behind … in a wave, a tree, a rock. It helped to reduce it enough that I could place it in a section of my heart that remains, but the intensity is reduced.”
The experience also confirmed Green’s love of Israel.
“Walking around Israel — climbing Masada or walking through the forests in the north — there was this poignancy that this is our country, but it is so much deeper,” he said. “I am a 9th-generation American, but America is not family. The experience reinforced my love of Israel and the understanding of the legitimacy of our founding as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and my appreciation for our country’s diversity of people, geography, history and complexity.”
Green also achieved his overarching goal, which was “to get on with my life.” He had time to reflect on the type of father he wanted to be and also realized that he could fall in love again. And he did. In 2015, he married Miriam, and between them they have nine children.
“Setting out, I was full of questions,” he said. “Now, there is no question that I left my anger and resentment, my frustration and humiliation on the trail. The last day was full of joy and exuberance and satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment.
“I’d like people come away from reading the book feeling uplifted and moved by the experience,” he added. He also said the book offers up what he learned in terms of “practical techniques” that can help people “face their own challenges, whatever they may be.”