Doron has lived in Yerushalayim all of his life and has traveled on Route 1 between Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv thousands of times. In the afternoon, as the sun begins to set, he often notices cars parked on the shoulder of the highway where passengers pull over to daven Mincha before shkiah (sunset). The individuals davening dot the shoulder along the highway - one person here, two people there, a third further down. This has always bothered Doron. For one thing, parking on the shoulder of the highway is outright dangerous. Secondly, he thought that if all these people could somehow join together, instead of davening by themselves, they could actually daven with a minyan. He would often think about how he could bring these travelers to daven together in some kind of shteibel.
This past bein hazmanim, Doron decided to finally do something about this. He and two friends got together and bought a truck that had in the past been used by the Tnuva company, the largest food manufacturer in Israel, and converted it into a shul. They erected walls of plaster and put in generators, air conditioning/heat, parquet flooring, pictures, decorations, and, of course, a bimah. They thought of every detail and spared no expense. By the time they were done, the shul was beautiful. They got a proper license and insurance and took the truck for inspection in order to make sure everything was legal. They named the new shul Beit Knesset Tefillat Haderech and then placed it at the end of the parking lot near the gas station at Latrun off Route 1. Once the shul was in place, they had to publicize its existence. They hung a sign in the field on the side of the highway before the Latrun exit and several at other helpful locations directing travelers to the shul.
Every day, Doron hosts minyanim for Mincha and Maariv. Sometimes there will be 30 people davening and sometimes there will be 50 people at the minyan. During bein hazmanim there were almost 300 people davening at Beit Knesset Tefillat Haderech every day. Doron hears the same story repeatedly from those who come to his shul. They tell of how they were driving on the highway and the time was getting closer and closer to shkiah. They were just about to give up on davening with a minyan when at the last minute they suddenly saw the sign for Beit Knesset Tefillat Haderech. With nothing to lose, they pulled off the highway and followed the signs, not quite sure what they would find. What they found was so much more than they expected. My neighbor was one of those travelers, and that’s how I found out about the new shul. Of course, I had to go there and see it for myself.
When the minyan is small, davening takes place inside the truck. But when the crowd is too big, they daven outside. Doron tells me with pride how his shul is the meeting place of every type of Jew; those who come to daven are Dati-Leumi, Chareidi, Chassidic, Mesorati, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Teimani. They have chayalim and policemen, and every type of Jew you can imagine coming to daven. Once, the rav of a city came there to daven and gave a shiur in between Mincha and Maariv. He said that we all live in places where there are countless shuls for us to daven in. But this is the first time there is a shul that caters to the hundreds of thousands of travelers on the road. If not for this shul, the fifty people sitting here would certainly not have davened with a minyan, he explained with gratitude. It is not enough for Doron to provide a comfortable place for his “congregants” to daven, he also provides them with coffee, tea, cold water, and sometimes even baked goods. Everyone who comes to the shul is treated like a welcome guest. Doron calls Beit Knesset Tefillat Hederech the first “start-up” shul. He hopes that similar shuls will pop up all over the country.
In pondering the about the location of Beit Knesset Tefillat Haderech, I thought that besides Latrun being about midway between Yerushalayim and Tel-Aviv, and thus an ideal location for this travelers’ shul, Latrun is also located in an area of great historical significance to our people. Latrun is in the heart of the Ayalon Valley, where Yehoshua and his army fought and defeated five Emorite armies. Two miracles occurred during this battle. Hashem rained great hailstones down from heaven, which killed even more of the enemy than the swords of the soldiers. In addition to that, the sun was setting as Yehoshua and his army pursued the enemy. So, he commanded the sun to halt. Yehoshua davened and cried out: “Shemesh b’Giv’on dom, v’yareach b’Emek Ayalon.” “Sun, stand still on Gibeon; and moon, in the valley of Ayalon” (Yehoshua 10:12). This was the only time in the history of the world that the Heavens fulfilled such a request.
Due to its strategic location, many battles were fought in Latrun throughout history. Most recently, in 1948, during the War of Independence, Latrun was the site of bloody battles. The Arab legion used this location to cut off Jewish access to Yerushalayim, where the Jewish residents began to starve. Ariel Sharon and Yitzchak Rabin fought in the battle of Latrun, as did my father-in-law z”l. When driving along the highway today, one can see the preserved remains of the trucks that were destroyed trying to break the blockade. Many soldiers, including soldiers in my father-in-law’s unit, gave their lives in the fields near Latrun. What better place could there be for Jews to unite and daven together than on the holy soil of Latrun?