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May 12, 2007

Touring Eretz Yisrael Part I: Southern Judean Desert

Today I am going to take you on a tour of Eretz Yisrael. We will take today's trip into the Lahav Forests and the southern part of the Judean Desert.

We will begin our day with the Lahav Forests. Lahav Forests is a forest reserve a bit north of Beer Sheva. It is outside of a kibbutz called, you guessed correctly, Kibbutz Lahav. Even more significant (not sure why) is that it is just a past a town called Lahavim, which (at least from the road) looks like an absolutely beautiful village.

We arrive at the rendezvous point in the forest and meet up with the rest of the group joining us.

The group is split into 4 groups of about 25 or so people in each. They are split among various stations set up in the area, each with a different activity. We will follow Group 1's activities.

This is a fairly popular exercise on tiyulim. It consists of having groups do activities that require teamwork, trust development, and the like.

Group 1 will begin at the station with an "individual" (rather than team) activity. Each person has to put on a harness on his body and walk on some ropes connected between some trees, about 25 feet above the ground. The activity concludes with a zip line going down to the ground.

We will now move on to the next station. Here we have some faith and teamwork building activities, such as falling backwards off a ladder and the rest of the group catches the faller. Another is to let 2 people throw you back and forth while you release control of your body. Another is to make a group circle with crossed arms and figure out how to have one half the circle change positions with the second half, while uncrossing the arms.

This will be a lot of fun trying to figure out the solutions, and an interesting experience, giving up control of your body while learning to rely on your friends.

The next station we move on to will be an Omega line. This is where you sit in a harness attached to a rope connected to a very high tree. Other members of the group pull the rope to raise you to the top of the rope and ten you zip down the rope to the bottom. This should be a bit of a thrill (though not as much as bungee jumping, I hear!).

The last station we will do today consists of some more teamwork activities. The activities include going through different levels of rope, crossing certain areas together as a group, walking on a rope with the team helping you not fall, and more.

Now that we have completed the teamwork portion of the day, we will move on to the more serious part of the tiyul.

We will now travel to Kfar HaNokdim. This is a village just outside of Arad, in the southern part of the Judean Desert. We will get there and eat lunch in a semi-authentic Bedouin tent. I only say semi-authentic because it is owned by Jews as a tourist attraction. The tent, though, is run by Bedouin and everything in the tent is according to Bedouin custom, more or less. The Bedouin are making fresh pitas and lafa bread to eat with hummus and cheeses.

After resting a bit, we will now go out on a jeep tour in the Judean Desert.

Ok, everybody, pile into the jeeps.

We drive out into the vast expanse of brown desert. The vegetation is already dried up, almost completely, despite it being early in the summer season. We drive up to a water cistern dug into the ground. There are similar cisterns all over the area, some fairly new and some dating back thousands of years. These cisterns are how the people living in the area used to store there water from the rainy season to last through the summer.

What is interesting about this cistern is that it gives you a very clear explanation of the story in the Torah of how Yaakov removed the stone from the water cistern for Rachel to water her flock. The cistern we are looking at is basically a hole in the ground. The custom was that the hole would be covered by a large boulder. This boulder could only be moved by two people at a time.

This was done for two reasons. One was so that nobody could just take water without anybody else knowing. The second was to ensure that the pit was taken care of. If one person could remove the stone, maybe he would not clean up after himself, maybe he would not return the boulder to its place, etc. By requiring a second person to be there, everybody took care of it properly, because somebody always knew who else accessed the cistern.

We will now move on. We drive through the dry desert. We pass sheperds with their flock of sheep. If you look out to your right now, you will see a dead camel being eaten by vultures. Very cool.

We will now be passing a mountain with a very sharp peak. This mountain is called Har Ha'Kanaim, or Mount of the Zealots. The reason for the name is that the zealots used to live n this area. We are in the same area as Massada, in which the Jews refused to give themselves up to the Roman conquerers, rather preferred to commit mass suicide. There were many battles between the zealots and the Romans in the area, and that is how this mountain got the name Mount of the Zealots.

Sometimes eagles and falcon can be seen in the area, but it seems like we will not be seeing any.

After driving through the desert, we will head back to the rendezvous point at Kfar HaNokdim. We will change oer to a nother tiul now. We can choose between an actual hike into the desert or a camel/donkey ride into the desert.

We will choose the camel/donkey ride, because we have to wait for the other groups to come back to start the walkign hike, while the camel group is departing right now.

Everybody, hop onto your donkeys and climb onto your camels.

We are now riding through desert on donkey back/camel back. I am not sure how this poor donkey carrys my weight. It is definitely not what he signed up for when he took this job. A number of times it feels like he is collpasing, particularly on declines.
At the midway point of the trip, we swicth between donkeys and camels, so I will now be on a camel. This is like riding an SUV compared to riding the donkey. You are much higher off the ground. The camel behind me has been acting up a bit and is getting some people nervous....

I notice that among the three Arabs leading our group through the desert, two are wearing sandals and one is wearing Crocs. Who would have thought that they would have made inroads even into this market, deep in the desert!! The Arab tells me, that the Crocs have the benefit of being so light you hardly feel them. But in general, he says, sandals are better. With the Crocs, every rock and thorn goes right through them into the foot. The sandals are more durable and hardy.

We head back to the village. On a steep incline, the crazy camel behnid me loses his footing and falls down on his front legs (actually arms). The rider gets pretty nervous. After some promptig from the Arabs, the camel gets back up and continues on his way.

We get back to the village and it is time for drinks and rest until dinner. There is an archery station to pass the time, along with backgammon boards for playing and matresses to lay down on.

It seems like I am not very good at archery. I would blame the lopsided set of arrows and partially broken bows, but some other people seem to be shooting pretty well, so my poor aim is probably my fault.

Mincha services are followed by dinner in the Bedouin tent. Dinner is catered by a caterer brought down from Beer Sheva. Dinner begins with a detauiled description of Bedoouin life by the head Bedouin of the Bedouin Tent. The Bedouin life seems very interesting. I especially like sitting at the low table on a low couch.

We will now head back to home. To save some time we will drive back through the Southern Hebron Hills. I would describe them for you but it is already dark outside so i cannot see anything out the window... and I am falling asleep...zzzzzzzzz

Thanks for joining me no this edition of Touring Eretz Yisrael. Hopefully I will be able to take you on more tours of other parts of Eretz Yisrael...


  1. "I especially like sitting at the low table on a low couch."

    as we originally sat at the seder? (i always tell my wife this is how i wan't to do it when we make our own seder)

  2. probably very much like that. I just dont know where to get such a low table or couch

  3. Sounds awesome!

  4. nice... sounds fun. i miss going on tiyulim like i did when i was in israel.


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