Seeing Galilee from horseback - Shalom, y'all!
Vered ha Galil, Israel
''Shalom, y'all!'' proclaims the bumper sticker. Then, in Hebrew, ''Vered ha Galil,'' the Rose of the Galilee. All Eddie Stone of Chicago knew when he began building his ''guest farm'' on the Mount of Beatitudes was that the best way he had found to see and feel the Holy Land was atop a graceful Arabian steed.
Yet two decades later - with his literally translated Hebrew name of Yehuda Avni and a coterie of friends, family, eager visitors, and 15 Arabian purebreds - he runs something very close to a national institution.
Above the Sea of Galilee, and two miles south of where Jesus is said to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount, he quarters guests in 10 large stone cottages that he helped build, serves fresh-caught fish, Arabic-style chickpea hummus, and Israel's juiciest steak. Then he leads mounted strolls far into the countryside.
''In Israel you travel not only in space but in time,'' he says. ''And you get a different feeling if you're on horseback for a couple of days.... You get a feeling of what the country was like before.''
Bumper stickers aside, Yehuda doesn't advertise. He doesn't have to. Word travels from mouth to mouth, and the visitors keep coming. Recent arrivals include two missionaries who had heard of the ranch ''somewhere'' in Zaire, and a group of kids clued in about Yehuda while on tour in Katmandu.
After an initial decade of debt, Vered ha Galil is more than paying its way. But to spend a few hours imperfectly tailing the frenetic, quick-smiling Yehuda Avni is to believe him when he says money isn't the issue.
Eddie Stone's saga of one horse-loving Jew's return to the land of Israel began with a misstart. Just out of the United States Army's 82nd Airborne Division, he decided to lend his military expertise to Israel's 1948 war for existence. The only trouble was that by the time Eddie arrived, the war was over. And, without a word of Hebrew, he was faced with figuring out what to do next.
''I just stayed. There was this instant feeling of being home here,'' he recalls, quickly adding the obvious: ''I still have a big soft spot for America.''
After living in various spots around Israel, learning Hebrew, Eddie - by then Yehuda - set about looking for a life path of his own in his new nation.
The part of Eddie Stone that came from the kibbutz decided he wanted to grow roses. The part of him that had run away to work at a stable in Lexington, Ky., wanted to be around horses. (''I wanted to be a jockey. I was 14. My parents brought me back home....'')
And the part of Eddie Stone that thrives on lazy, long, and laughing afternoons with just about anybody who drops in, that Eddie Stone wanted to be around people.
Then Yehuda, with a soft Israeli-government loan, staked out a patch of the Mount of Beatitudes in 1963.
''The idea was something of a hobby farm,'' he explains, ''a place where I could combine all the things I like: roses and horses and people.''
When Yehuda showed up, the Rose of Galilee consisted of exactly one tree and a fieldful of large stubborn stones. The stones are now part of the guest houses. The tree is lost among dozens of others. And tucked in the middle are the large wooden stable, the rich wood dining hall, the exercise ring for folks who would like to ride without going anywhere, and a swimming pool.
But the main business of Yehuda's ranch is taking care of folks who want to ride away somewhere. Tours range from a few hours to a few days, the latter typically including overnights in kibbutzes, bedouin encampments, or hostelries depending on the group.
His various helpers - some of whom just dropped in and stayed over the years, like one distant cousin of Britain's Queen Elizabeth - lead some of the tours.
Twice a year, Yehuda takes a group on what he calls his six-day ''whooper dooper'' ride all the way to Jerusalem.
The rest of the 23-year-old dream lies ahead: ''I want to keep the place small. But I want to add maybe a tennis court, or an indoor riding ring, and a guest lounge.
''I always think of that book, 'The Compleat Angler.'
''I want to make the Compleat Guest Farm.''