On Thursday morning, we boarded the bus, and headed to the dessert for another trip to the South. We have another really international group with the overseas program. During the first few days of orientation, I met a group of people from India, and another large group from Ohio University… what a range! There are also individuals studying Arabic, and Yiddish from Poland, Romania, and the United States. The variety of people I have met on all of these endeavors has truly been eye-opening. The motley crew filed out of the bus and onto the rocky dessert terrain for a hike near the Dead Sea. The fascinating thing about hiking near the Dead Sea (the lowest site on earth with no forms of life due to the high salt concentration) is that we encountered freshwater pools and waterfalls within distances that overlook the sea. We first hiked to a waterfall, which refreshed us all from the intense and dry heat of the day. While exploring the waterfall, I ventured on my own and found another refreshing pool of water behind the main area of the water. I couldn’t hear the rest of the group and decided to take a moment for myself. I settled on a rock and reflected on how peaceful I felt. I knew that the waterfall was pounding and people were swimming and splashing, but I could not see or hear any of that in this new pool area. While basking in the sun, I thought of how this moment correlated to being in Israel. So many disquieting events are taking place beyond Israel’s borders, but Israel itself seems relatively tranquil despite the surrounding events.
We later took a gondola up to Mount Masada, a historical site during multiple eras when Jews drove the Romans and Greeks out and declared their own independence. The first time we climbed the mountain on Birthright, we woke up at 4 a.m. and climbed the mountain before the sun rose and watched the sunrise on top of the mountain. This time, it was the middle of the day and the heat was scorching, so I was happy to take the quick gondola ride to the top. After looking at many of the archaeological sites on top, we headed back to a hostel overlooking the Dead Sea.
The next day, we hiked to another waterfall, and traveled to the Dead Sea. I was more hesitant to race into the salty waters because on my first encounter, the salt burns any sensitive areas on the body. We traveled to a different beach this time so it was nice to see a different beach on the sea. Later that night, we went to the most successful Bedouin village officially recognized by the state of Israel. I learned that many of the Bedouin villages were not officially recognized by the state of Israel, so they are responsible for generating their own power. The village we visited is formally recognized by the state, and has a low unemployment rate and has a proper education and professional system. Many of the other Bedouin establishments are still reaching this point. Our group was brought into a cave where our tour guide’s family lived with his ten brothers and sisters. Hearing about the Bedouin way of life was so different from my own culture, and it made me thankful for the rights and privileges I have in America. This group is technically not a “Bedouin” meaning nomadic and travels from one place to another, but rather part of the stationary “Fata” group. They view themselves in different categories in the social realm. The particular village we visited started thousands of years ago with a single family and village blood tests are still performed for marriages. The Bedouins are extremely hospitable, and they offer coffee, a delicious meal, and tea after the meals for visiting guests. On birthright we visited a Disney-style version of a Bedouin tent largely funded by the Jewish federation for Birthright and other tourism groups. Unlike my birthright experience, my second visit gave me an entirely new and more authentic view of dessert life.