University of Haifa International School Student Blog
Well we had a very nice Thanksgiving. Israel does not officially observe the Thanksgiving Holiday but, on account of there being so many International American students they decided to throw us a Thanksgiving dinner. I showed up late but there were still plenty of vegetables left when I got there. There was also plenty of turkey but, I’m a vegetarian so I was not concerned with the turkey situation. To be fair and complete there were 4 turkeys, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, and baklava for dessert. There was a very festive mood with everyone sitting around long tables enjoying and celebrating the spirit of Thanksgiving. Afterwards some of them watched football games; personally I had a conversation about G-d and the Bible with one of the other international students. All said it was a very nice evening, with the spirit of celebrations that I have had at home with friends and family.
The International School organized a trip to The Dead Sea over the weekend. Our bus dropped us off in the Judean desert near the Nached Boched River. We saw Bedouins herding their camels along the highway and learned about the integration of Bedouin peoples into “modern society”. Apparently, The Kingdom of Jordan has had the greatest success with integrating the Bedouin tribes on account of the King being of Bedouin descent himself.
The desert was very beautiful, immense, quiet, and mystical. I have a liking for the desert, not to live but, to visit. I find it hard to put into words, the feeling that I get when I’m in the desert. It seems that little changes in the desert aside from the shifting of dunes. Time makes its mark on the desert in the way that the wind slowly carves away at the mountains or the rare rain that equates to flash floods erodes at the canyons that are dry on all other occasions. The desert seems to be a still place; the growth of plants dependent on the occasional rain. The consistency of time is reflected in the layers of rock that have been exposed by the wind and the rain. I would like to go back, if for no other reason than to listen to the quiet, still passing of time. It is something with the time that fascinates/captures me. The observance that time has continued while so many other generations of peoples and cultures have passed. It is a quaint reminder that time will also continue as I slowly pass. From that point of observation usually follows a self-imposed analysis of the value of my life by virtue of the investment of my time. My thoughts, words, and actions; what do they equal? What are they worth? What is the value of my tiny contribution to eternity, the thought invokes a sense of mental gravity. Against the measure of eternity my contribution would seem insignificant. Yet, when taken in the context of my life and the sum of all of my actions, subtle and gross, measured against each other and milked for value, I am able to see my contribution, the worth of myself. My will and desire expressed, at times, with single minded determination and focus; literally slicing through the fog of apathy and ignorance, and other unwanted contributions of my mind and body. At other times I have observed how I wander through like a belligerent; intoxicated with pride, lust, greed, envy and illusion. I think that is why I like the desert and the ocean. There is the subtle reminder of time. One must listen carefully to hear it. It is the record that all of our intentions are recorded in. That is a measure of our worth. If I were an artist than certainly the oceans and the deserts would be my muse.
We walked through the desert with our two guides, Yisrael and Yair and the Madrichim (International School Guides) Tomer, Avichai, and Hadas and the emergency situation team (first aid etc.) We came to a place where the desert dropped off into what looked like a huge basin. It was The African Rift Valley that goes from Eastern Turkey, through the Dead Sea, all the way to the Red Sea. It began forming 106 M years ago and has been shifting at the rate of 1 mm every year. It was an incredible site from our vantage point. The part of the Dead Sea that we were looking at was divided by earthen walls so that the phosphorous and other minerals could be harvested. We hiked down the cliff, into the basin and made our way to the Dead Sea. It was a nice quiet hike that invoked much of the reflection I described above. When we got to the road that runs along The Dead Sea our bus was waiting to take us to a section of the Dead Sea that had facility for swimming.
The Dead Sea is just over 400 meters below sea level and 42 miles long by 11 miles wide. The bus arrived at a beach with showers, shops and changing rooms. There were also large signs advising how to enjoy the Dead Sea. No splashing, don’t put your head under the water, if you swallow some water get help from a lifeguard. The water is 30% salt, and feels a bit oily. I was worried that my feet would burn in the water because of the cracks on them. In spite of my cautions and concerns I suited up and entered the water placing a few drops on my head before placing my feet in the water, a habit from my time living in the monastery. I slowly entered the water that was cold on account of the time of year and the fact that it was 4:30 and the sun had already dropped below the horizon. My feet didn’t burn!!!
What can I say about floating in the water? Let me begin by letting you know that we were all laughing with wonder and amazement. It was such an experience, like nothing I have had before. Upon entering to a depth up to the chest one could no longer stand, you just float. I was floating cross legged in the water then my weight shifted sending me back so that I floated on my back. It was really incredible. We were all laughing the whole time. It was a wonderful experience. It was cold and still we stayed in the water for about 30 minutes, just experiencing the weightlessness of the water imposed. After getting out we washed, rinsed and got back on the bus still grinning from ear to ear.
From the Dead Sea the bus drove us to a campground in the desert. We stayed in a Bedouin tent that night, after receiving Shabbat around a large fire with challah, non-alcoholic wine, stir fry, pita, salad, tahini, meat and plenty of vegetarian corn and soy schnitzel, and kosher marshmallows for dessert. I ate a lot! The hike had really gotten the better of me. All of the hiking was much more then I had anticipated. The last part of the descent to the Dead Sea included a steep decline to the bottom of a canyon. A lot of calories were burned during that.
The next day we were up bright and early at 6:15 in the morning. I have to concede that not all of us were very bright but, it was definitely early. We had a breakfast of cereal, bread, pita, nutella, jam, peanut butter, and leftovers from the night before. I brought some lemons and dates and helped myself to pita, nutella and pb and jelly. Actually I had two pitas smothered in nutela, P.B. and j.
We formed two groups, one group for creek stomping and the other to ascend Mt. Yishay and then to go down to the Ein Gedi Springs. The second hike was dubbed the “hard hike” and the first the “easy hike”. I was not enthusiastic to hike with wet shoes all day long and thus opted for the Yishay Mountain and Ein Gedi springs. Mt. Yishay was hardcore! The hike that is, the view from the top was spectacular, overlooking the Dead Sea on one side and the Judean desert on the other. To get the top was quite the hike. In some places the path was right on the edge of the cliff. That, adding to the fact that I’m a bit cautious of heights, made the hike more of an adventure then a stroll in the park. At the top I ate my lunch of mashed potatoes, carrots, and yogurt and took a much deserved and needed nap. Naturally I took in the view and shared some conversation with a friend from the International school, Jeremy. Just before I dozed off our guide, Yair, passed around a picture of a type of cougar that used to inhabit the desert. We were told that it would be very unlikely for us to see one on the trip, a nice assurance.
From the peak of Mt. Yishay we descended into David Canyon. The scenery on the hike was incredible. There were mountains everywhere representing different shades of tan, white, and red. The sky was blue and on the The Dead Sea there was a mist clouding the mountains on the other side. As the sun began to set on the Dead Sea, it created a spectacle of colors on the sea ranging from blue to yellow to tan. David Canyon was dry as were most canyons that we came across in the desert. In places we could see huge stones that had been worn smooth from the passing of water over many, many years. In some places the rocks were so smooth that we could slide down them to a lower level of the canyon (5-7 feet of a slide). We continued traveling in the canyon until we reached a point where there would have been a waterfall with a 50-70 foot drop. That is where we stopped for lunch, looking out at into a valley of sorts with greenery supported by springs.
The canyon ended with an awesome view, and after lunch we headed back the way we came. Halfway back to the point where we entered the canyon we began the hike out, the opposite side that we entered. There was a part on this hike that was akin to climbing rather than hiking. Again, my concern over heights added to the sensation of the adventure. The climb was short and looking back I would still have preferred the hike with the fear factor from heights as opposed to walking all day in wet shoes.
Our last stop was the Ein Gedi springs, a water fall and a very nice pool of water for swimming. I didn’t go in having not brought my swim suit and it was rather late in the day, I wasn’t keen for being wet and cold. On the way out of the canyon we saw several Hyraxes, a small furry animals looking similar to a gopher but climbing in trees and rocks and eating vegetation. Very cute. We also saw several Ibexes which are very similar to Mountain Goats. The trip ended with a visit to an ancient Synagogue from the 1st century. On the floors of the temple, that had been rebuilt several times, there were mosaics showing peacocks, and influence from Persia and there were geometric patterns as well. In ancient times the places of worship were the center piece of villages and towns. People of the community invested a lot of time and money in building the places of worship. I suppose in some ways the theatres and malls of today reflect the focus of our modern society.
So, to summarize, Israel has been sweet! I can’t say that there is a favorite place I have visited; it has all been very sweet. I hope that you are all enjoying your time in your respective engagements. If you feel so inclined do come for a visit to Israel, there is so much to see & I think I still need to write about my trip to Jaffa!?!