Monthly Archives: March 2011

Re: The Weekend of Wandering in the Desert

Well, I survived. I was not horribly maimed or injured by falling off the mountains or by rock slides or by wolves. All of my worst fears did not come true. The hiking was not nearly as intense as I originally anticipated. The clambering over large rocks got tiring after a while but gave me a new empathy for this guy and his crew.

The law in Israel says that schools are allowed to have a casualty rate of 10% on field trips. Our group had two major casualties (sprained ankle and a sick person) and a few minor ones (scrapes, etc.). Which for a group of 70 foreigners, is quite an achievement.

The Negev is no joke. It is quite literally the most arid place I have ever had the dubious pleasure of visiting. I can count on one hand the number of trees I saw (3) and the amount of water I saw (0L). In terms of wild life, there wasn’t really any… I saw two birds (they were not stupid enough to land) and no scorpions (thank god!) even though they are rumored to be abundant in the Negev. The Negev is a wasteland as far as the eye can see. But, oh my gosh, it is a beautiful waste land.

The Beautiful Negev

What the Negev lacks in lush foliage, it makes up for in rock. My tour guide kept calling the Negev a geologist’s paradise. Think rock formations from Four Corner’s National Park, Yosemite, Disneyland rides, and Death Valley all in one spot. It is absolutely incredible. There was one particular portion of our hike where there were giant house sized boulders that were tossed about by the force of flash floods. The power of the forces at work here was awe-inspiring and made me very glad that God is not fond of smiting people any more.


Looks like part of Thunder Mountain in Disney Land!

I was also a bit nervous about spending such an extended period with so many international students. I like most of them but having classes and social activities with the same 70 ppl gets old very quickly. This trip was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Yes, the amount of whining was a little excessive. Yes, it was a struggle to stifle my murderous impulses towards some people. But what made it alright was our Israeli entourage.

All of the nature trails in Israel are marked like this.

We had an entire crew of Israeli support staff with us. We had our two madrichim (RAs/social activities coordinators), Tomer and Michal; two tour guides, Iran and Israel; two security/first aid guys, Rambo and Guido; one survival extraordinaire, Bear; and one other random Israeli guy. Rambo and Guido (not their real names) were these very intense Druze guys. They only spoke hebrew and survived on chain-smoking, coffee, and intensity. In their army service, they were a part of an élite combat unit. Now they are security guards at the university.


Rambo (L) and Guido (R)



Guido was the younger one. He had a lot of energy and was constantly getting into trouble. While we were at a rest stop on the way he impressed a bunch of little kids by showing off his strength at an arcade game. He may have also dunked one of the our guides while we were in Eilat.

Rambo was the strong silent type. For about half the trip, I thought that he wasn’t human. I’m pretty sure that he is at least part machine and part mountain goat. He took his job incredibly seriously and as a result was very good at it. He was always counting us and was always bringing up the rear making sure no one fell or was left behind. As the trip wore on, I began to see his softer side come out. He is engaged and wears his fiance’s name on a necklace. When asked whether that is a Druze tradition, he responded: no it isn’t, he just really loves her.


This is the Egyptian border and one of the guard towers that lines the border. This picture is taken from the Israeli side.

My reward for 1.5 days in the desert and sleeping on the ground in a thin sleeping bag... Sitting on a beautiful beach for a day!




A Word About the Weekend

This weekend I am going to Elat. We will be hiking. There is a high possibility that I will either A. fall off the mountain. B. Get really annoyed with the entire situation (read: 8 hours of hiking) and go crazy, running off into the wilderness, where I will be forced to fend for myself and will find myself adopted by a pack of wolves. Ten years thus, I will be rescued by an IDF unit running drills in the desert and after relearning English and reintegrating myself into human society, I will publish a best selling book entitled- Raised by Wolves: One Woman’s Journey Through the Desert to Reclaim Her Self.

Please pray for me.

Also, for lent I gave up alcohol. So after hiking in the wilderness for 40 hours, I will not be able to look forward to an ice cold alcoholic beverage to make me forget my aching muscles. I am seriously rethinking my lenten choices. Next week’s update should be a good one. Keep my sanity in your prayers!

J-Town: The Center of the World

I have been mulling for over a week about how best to describe Jerusalem to the people back home.

It is one of the best types of cities teeming with life and emotion constantly ready to explode. Sometimes these are large and violent explosions effecting hundreds of people resulting in death and destruction. Turn on cnn circa 2007 and you’ll know what I mean. There are also smaller good natured explosive interactions. Haggling in the market is often an exercise in out passioning the other. Or outside the Jaffa Gate, there was road work being done. The men working were gesticulating wildly and yelling at each other over some minor detail. A friend once explained to me that in Israel no one really wins an argument, one party just gets tired of yelling.

The door out of the Upper Room. Note the Islamic influences.

Overlaying this explosive vibrancy is a startling level of religiosity. Religion seeps out of Jerusalem’s pores, it is in many ways the mortar of the city. There are places in the city where one gets their religion with a side of cheese. For example, David’s Tomb and the Upper Room. These are not sites for the skeptical. There is really no basis for these sites being holy. Probably at one point in history some enterprising young Jerusalemite made up a story about those sites in order to make a quick buck from pilgrims. However, this still does not change the fact that people flock from all over the world to come to these sights. When we were at the Upper Room, a least 3 different groups of Christian pilgrims came through to pray and soak up the atmosphere. This begs the question: what makes a site Holy? Can a site become holy if enough people believe that it is Holy?

The women's side of the Western Wall

Then there are the sincerely holy sites. These are the sites that make Jerusalem the center of the world. For Jews, there is the Wall and the Temple. For Christian’s, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And for Muslims, the Temple on the Mount. Don’t get me wrong, these sites have their own amount of cheese, however, these are also sites that are at the center. At the Western Wall, I just watched. I took a seat on the women’s side and I watched the emotion as women quite literally whispered in God’s ears.The stood at the wall and whispered their prayers and secrets in the same way you do as a child. I saw hope, grief, adoration, and so many other emotions as women stood in the presence of God.

At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, our group moved through the last stations of the cross at the same time as a young Ukrainian football team. I am not sure why they happened to be in Israel, all I know is that it was clear why they were at the church. As my group was leaving they were urgently praying and kissing the Stone of Anointing. There is some thing poignant about watching adolescent boys dressed in their soccer uniforms asking for God’s blessing. There is no better salve for pre-game jitters than some blessing from God. In many ways my experience in Jerusalem was not metaphysical. It was an experience of practical religion. A God to whom people who flock to the center of the world to whisper their secrets to God and to be anointed before their soccer matches.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre