I have mentioned before, that I enjoy accompanying tourists around the country. There are places we don’t visit so often when we live in proximity. And when taking a friend to see some place, one gets a taste of the excitement of seeing that well known place for the first time. It renews our appreciation of a site. I recently had such an experience, when sharing with my friend Bill, and his wife, a few of the spots that I especially care for in Jerusalem and Israel.
But there is also a disadvantage when traveling with a tourist. Visiting a country that you don’t know, for just a few days, makes you want to see as much as possible. And when taking someone around, in such circumstances, it is much the same. You want to show your friend the sights. You want him or her to get to know as much as possible of the city, or the country. And it means that sometimes you get to a particular place, not at the best time. Or you leave faster than you would if you were on your own, because you want to see still another site. Usually, when I visit some place in the country, I like to stay at least a day. There are things you can experience only if you stay in a place for a number of hours. It gives you a chance to tune into the place, and allows the place to get used to you.
Usually, upon arrival, you startle the wild life. Sometimes, the plants too. I’ve been in beautiful nature spots, when suddenly we were accosted by a visit of 4 wheel drive jeeps, or dirt bikes. Not only was it difficult for me to suffer the noise and the dirt that was thrown around, but I also observed the way that the nature just seemed to close up. It was as if the entire area went into a state of shock.
And when you stay for a long time in a place, little by little, you become aware of the more timid life forms, and become sensitive to plants and insects you didn’t even see when you came. Colors appear. Sounds are heard. It is amazing. One of the names of god in the Hebrew language, is place. When you truly start internalizing a place, you become aware of the presence of god there. And of course, almost every place changes according to the time of the day. But what changes most is your own sensitivity.
The Dead Sea is popularly known in my country, in Hebrew, as the Salt Sea. But it is also referred to in ancient writings as the Dead Sea. This is because according to popular opinion, life can not survive in that body of water. There are very few plants or living things that can be found there. But we do know of some exceptions. For instance, the snail from which we extract the color blue, which is found on our flag, and which is used to dye one of the threads in our prayer shawl…
One of my favorite stories, relates to that name. And uses the Dead Sea as an allegory to teach us something about human ethics. It is said that the Dead Sea receives water from many tributaries, but doesn’t pass any of it on. And so, we are ourselves warned that if we only take, and don’t give as well, we will die inside. For there must be a balance between giving and taking.
The Sea itself is some 65 kilometers long, and 18 kilometers wide, and is situated on our eastern border with Jordan. There are places where it is 350 meters deep. It has slowly been receding for the past 50 years, because of a number of circumstances. But I believe we will soon see it return to its previous glory, as certain other circumstances develop. One of the problems has been that my fellow countrymen have been rather insensitive to how precious water is. There has been a lot of waste. In ancient times, people used to collect rainwater on their roofs. But in modern Israel, it was common to pump as much water out of the ground as was needed, and to drain water from the Sea of Galilee for all kinds of uses. The water that used to flow from the Sea of Galilee down the Jordan to the Dead Sea has become scarce, and so the Dead Sea has been thirsty for a long time now.
In fact, the Dead Sea has many tributaries, including little streams that just appear when it rains in Jerusalem, or in certain parts of the Negev. Amazingly enough, there are underground springs and pools very close to the Sea, which are almost unknown to the general public. But they provide sweet water to the animals that live in the vicinity. The ibex, for instance, are able to find and drink from the sweet water found at the shore.
The Salt provides many very interesting formations, and I have spent hours examining the strange shapes, which the waters often mirror. When the water is calm, it looks quite shallow despite its great depth. But there are fierce storms, at times, which have been known to scuttle boats. One of the very unusual phenomena of the Sea is that it always supports the body of a person. If you just lie on it, you will find yourself floating because of the high salt content. Someday, I will post some pictures I’ve taken of people reading the newspaper or a book while floating on the water. It is hard to imagine it till you’ve tried. The sea is also famous for it’s health products. The mud is known to cure a number of skin diseases, and cosmetics are also made from this natural treasure.