After successfully locating the Nablus Samaritans in a challenging mountainous West Bank geographic location, I fondly imagined finding their Israeli cousins in a suburb of Holon just south of Tel Aviv would be a breeze. I’d thoroughly researched in advance as much as I could. The immensely helpful Holon city website confirmed the presence of the Shomronim and linked me to exhibits at the Holon History museum. My (Palestine) guidebook directed me to the suburb of Neve Pinkhas, and Google maps sort of confirmed the location of the area in a general vaguely helpful sort of way in the sense that as I zoomed in on my goal, the district label disappeared completely leaving me to gaze the satellite view for clues and indications of a religious settlement.
My Israel guidebook didn’t mention them. I should have recognised this as ominous.
I borrowed a bike from my hotel to cycle the 9 miles. The guy on reception looked at me as though I had two heads. He said it was a long way, and there were hills. Having flown in to Ben Gurion many times along the coastal plain around Tel Aviv, I was puzzled at where such hills might be hiding, but assured him that since I was from Yorkshire where cycling on the flat was an unknown experience, I would be fine.
I was a bit disappointed he didn’t ask me about Le Grand Depart 2014 (which all Yorkshire folk are talking about non-stop this month), but clearly the Tour de France is not high on the radar for Israelis.
So I pedalled south via Bat Yam, a coastal resort far from the edgy vibe of the Tel Aviv beach front, and turned east at some point to navigate to Holon via much bigger roads and even a few inclines that wimps might describe as hills. My pulsating blue Google map mark led me inexorably towards Neve Pinkhas, and I would have arrived much earlier, but had to constantly stop and check my phone to establish location.
Finally, expiring in the heat and with the alarming feel of encroaching sunburn on my neck, I saw a brown tourist sign marked “Samaritan Colony”. It was not pointing in the direction of Google maps’ target spot. I decided it was time to start asking people. And for the next hour, that’s what I did. Little old ladies who looked as though they had lived there for decades; Russian immigrants; old men playing backgammon. And no one knew what I was talking about. I tried using hebrew. I talked of the “b’nei israel”. I showed Neve Pinchas on my phone. I told them about the Holon History Museum.
It was no good. The remnants of the Lost Tribes of Israel were well and truly lost in Holon, and more alarmingly, so by now was I after an hour of cycling side streets. I needed wifi urgently to try and relocate myself and maybe do some more googling about the Samaritans. I needed a cafe with free wifi, but the extreme suburbs i found myself in offered nothing useful. I needed the city centre.
And so for the next hour, I cycled around asking people where the city centre was. Again, I was met by incomprehension. I tried asking for big shops. And for cafes. I had fallen into the trap of assuming everyone would understand me but Israel is a land with a lot of recent immigrants and although I berated myself for my inadequate Hebrew, I realised that I knew as much as the passers-by who said yes, they could speak English and then couldn’t understand my plaintive requests for directions. Eventually seeking inspiration from the Israeli detective novel in my bag, I found myself in Sokolov Street which was full of people and shops and was about as city centre-ish as it was going to get, particularly in view of the suddenly abundant free wifi.
Even better, I realised I was having a perfect suburban edgelands experience which completely compensated for the missing tribe. Forced to abandon my search after further googling resulted in no better information, I happily cycled back to Tel Aviv via further extensive detours in the middle of nowhere.