Torreya State Park, Noah's Ark and the Israelites
Our local Garden of Eden
By Dror Ben Yossef (Israeli Shaliach of Broward County) & Ofer Avigdori (Israeli Shaliach of Palm Beach County)
It is virtually impossible to find a place in Florida that isn’t flat. As two stubborn Israelis, we didn’t give up so easily. All we asked for was a little bit more on the horizon - maybe even a short hike and some primitive camping in the middle of nowhere. Our research led us to Torreya State Park, which is described as “unique” among Floridian terrain. We drove nine hours to the camp site, north of Tallahassee. Armed with a lot of naivety but no tent, we asked for a simple outdoor primitive camp site on which to put our sleeping bags. We found out that state law prohibits staying without a tent. The story changed immediately when the park rangers asked, “Where did you come from? What is this weird accent? WOW, Israelites!” A few minutes later, we had the best spot to park our car, right next to the viewpoint terrace. “You can stay inside your car, just for the night," the park ranger said. Full of joy, we took a short hike through the confederate gun emplacements of the Civil War. By noon, we met John, a nice guy from Tallahassee who told us the story of Torreya State Park, which has trees that can be found there. . . and in the Middle East. “WOW… Israelites!” we heard again, after telling him where we came from. “The story is not over because you are going to love the second part of it, “he said. “The legend is that the big flood happened here. Noah came here to the only hill in Florida and built the ark from the Torreya tree. This place is the Garden of Eden.”
We cooked some black Turkish coffee to digest the shocking story we heard. Enthused, but very skeptical, we went to sleep in the back of our white Volvo V70. A heavy, white foggy morning welcomed us into another surprising meeting. This time it was Pastor Mike, a Harley Davidson biker who travels all around the country to tell the people the stories of the land. He had spoken with the guards the night before, which led him on his search for those Israelites who spent the night in the park. We were overwhelmed to hear the same story again, and of the big love this gentleman shared with Israel. Mike gave each of us a loving hug, we sipped down another coffee and we were back on the road.
Many explorers have tried to find Noah’s ark through the years. They were motivated by the verse in Genesis 8:4, which describes how the Ark came to rest "on the mountains of Ararat” in Turkey. Marco Polo was sure he found the ark around the Armenian mountain range in the 14th century; many other explorers tried to find it, too. The most recent account was shared in 2010, when Noah’s Ark Ministries International (NAMI) released a video of their discovery of wood structures found in the same area of Ararat.
The truth behind the story of Noah’s ark may be disputed between the stories we know and these people we encountered who called Torreya State Park, the local Garden of Eden. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not, but for now, while we stay in Florida, this is our little Garden of Eden.