At first glance this tree does not look particularly impressive, as its canopy is rather thin. We can assume that it was much more imposing many years ago, but time has caused the tree’s large branches to collapse and disappear, leaving only one to soar still to a height of around ten meters. What is impressive about this tree is its huge ancient knotted and gnarled trunk, which has a girth of over five meters. Well sheltered by its vast bulk, mosses flourish among the cracks in the bark on its northern side, safely protected from the rays of the sun.
A large opening at one side reveals the huge trunk to be almost completely hollow. The Gabbay family of Kiryat Tivon has adopted this tree as a memorial for their son Ilan, a paratroop officer who fell during the war in Lebanon in August 2006. The hollow interior of the trunk has been smoked to protect it from parasites, and pipes have been inserted at the bottom of the gaping hole to drain away rainwater that could rot the wood. The lone branch has been propped up, the surrounding shrubs have been cut back and four wooden benches have been placed around the tree.
Tivon in ancient times
To the north of the tree, we set out along a blue-marked trail that leads us uphill through an open woodland of Tabor oaks. Bushes of Mediterranean buckthorn (Rhamnus lycioides) and spiny broom (Calicotome villosa) accompany us along the way. The trees are hung with rough bindweed (Smilax aspera), and in springtime seasonal flowers burst into celebratory bloom. Please note as you walk along that you are sharing this trail with a herd of cows.
The trail continues to ascend, and after 350 meters it brings us to a row of cypresses and an open field. This may well be the site of ancient Tivon, which is mentioned in the Mishna as being located at a distance of two thousand cubits from the eruv (the ritual enclosure of an area in connection to the Jewish laws of the Sabbath) of a community called Ardeskos. Khirbat Kutzkutz, near Kibbutz Alonim, helps us to identify Tivon. In the Talmud, Tivon is mentioned as a community whose members did not differentiate between the pronunciation of the Hebrew letters hay and het and ayin and alef. For this reason they were generally not chosen to lead the congregation in prayer as shlihei tzibur unless they could prove that they were able to pronounce these consonants correctly: “Men from Haifa, Beit Shean and Tivon should not lead the congregation in prayer, as they pronounce hays as hets and ayins as alefs. [However], if their language is as it should be, [then] they may,” (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 24b).
From the cypresses the trail makes its way down a gentle slope until, after about 15- meters, it meets up with a green-marked trail, which we’ll return to later. In the meantime, we continue straight on along the blue-marked trail that soon leads us to the giant mastic tree.