the Dead Sea

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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nuns dipping their feet in the water

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…

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a resort by the sea

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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35 responses to “the Dead Sea

  1. This is a wonderful post – accompanied by absolutely beautiful photos. I understand your point of view of needing to absorb a place for an amount of time. Unfortunately, time is precious and sometimes limited. I cannot seem to choose a favourite from your photos. They are all very powerful and beautiful.

    • Thank you for you comment Marina. Perhaps just because time is precious and limited, and the world is vast and unlimited, I think it a mistake to get to know as much as possible, and preferable to find depth, and let the experience find its resonance within us.

      • Shimon – your reply to my comment is very meaningful. I am trying to cultivate patience and not jump from one thing, to another. My blog has helped me notice the details of NY for example, and really get to know its workings. I can’t wait to visit my hometown of Sydney soon, and do the same thing there. As John lennon said, “Living is easy with eyes closed.” I used that quote in a recent post (about street art!) and think it is very apropos.

  2. A beautiful post filled with insight. Water is a subject near to my heart, and I have struggled to write about it. Here you have captured the subject so articulately. I, too, have noticed that nature itself seems to recoil from noisy intrusions. I love it that a name for god is “place”. This sums up for me my deep desire to find a home in which to sink my roots.
    Thank you~
    Melissa

    • In the recent past, I’ve watched as photography became very popular. And much of it is very good. One can visit such places as flickr, and see endless examples of breathtaking photographs. And it has only strengthened my opinion that ultimately, what really matters is how we, as individuals, understand our environment, and the content of our own living experience. Thank you very much for your comment, Melissa, and I wish you continued success in your art, and the wondrous feeling of having found your true home.

  3. A lovely post and beautiful pictures. By the way, I think the “Dead Sea” skin products are incredible. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you so much, Susan. Yes, it’s amazing to discover where the blessings come from, and the true depth… understanding, and inspiration… Sometimes we chase after beauty or wisdom, or riches… only to find that the true treasures have been running by our side, panting to keep up with us, like a faithful dog.

  4. Your photos are stunning. You write as well as you take pictures and I love your sentiments on the necessity to get to know a place before it will reveal its true beauty to us. Life riches are all around us and they are free if we will only silence ourselves, look, and listen. Lovely post.

    • It is a great pleasure for me to hear words of praise from you, yearstricken, because I enjoy your own writing so much. Not all riches are free, I’ve found. But when they are truly precious, the price matters little… and calming one’s barking ego, never really got in the way of enjoying life. Thank you so much for your comment.

  5. One of the things I love about your writing are the little insights that add so much richness and texture–for instance “startling” the plants. And one of the words for god is place. When I was young, one of the places I most longed to visit is Israel. Your blog has been awakening that longing. I never have made it there, but maybe that will be the next place I travel to.

    • Having traveled a bit in this world, and I’m sure you know this too, from your own travels, the experience is always unconnected to our expectations; much more dependant on where we’ve gotten to in our own personal study of the world. I am sure that there is much in your heart and mind, that you are still dealing with, now after your return from the far east… and I await hearing your thoughts on that experience, after you’ve settled a while. Thank you very much for your comment.

  6. Thank you for sharing the photos … it had me reminiscing about my mom … when she was about fifty-five or sixty, she and her husband went on a church trip to Jerusalem. It was the first time she had ever needed a passport, and I remember her being shocked at herself for being willing to go outside her comfort zone to visit another country. I remember a photo that she took where she, like the nuns in your photo, was wading in the Dead Sea. The look on her face was one of pure bliss. Thanks for taking me back to that memory, and also for the reminder that there are plenty of treasures to be appreciated right here in our own backyards.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post, N. And pleased most of all, that it reminded you of the treasures in your own backyard. When I was young I did a great bit of traveling, and I was able to do so because I didn’t have a ‘comfort zone’ at that time. Since then, I’ve known great comfort in my life, and though I’m still somewhat adventurous by nature, I weigh my steps more carefully. How fine it is to remember that ‘face of bliss’, and I wish you the great pleasure of knowing bliss many times in your own life. Thank you very much for your comment.

    • Dear tshang. Thank you very much for the kindness and the honor of wishing to bestow on me this award. As embarrassing as it is for me, I’ve made it my policy through life, not to accept any award or special credit for what I do. I am very grateful to be living this life, and to meet with people in many different frameworks. Every person I meet is special in his or her own way. Much of what we are is the product of past experiences, luck and heredity. My greatest reward in life is that I have had some very fine teachers. And in addition to that, I’ve also had the great luck of enjoying all the work I’ve done in life. Now, in my old age, I am thoroughly enjoying meeting good people on the internet, and being read by people I’ve not even had the pleasure of meeting. Because of all of this, I do not accept awards or prizes. Please excuse me.

  7. I have been blessed to visit many wonderful places in my life, the more so because I’ve often gotten to spend enough time in a visit to appreciate the places’ subtleties and surprise beauties. But I’ve also known that sensation that I’m a stranger in my own place because I’ve not been attentive enough to rejoice in what seems so familiar. As you say, it’s worth a great deal to stop rushing, to see those things we think are well known through new eyes, whether by introducing a stranger to them or by simply being more patient and mindful. Thank you for sharing a spectacular Place and some of its wonders with us.

    • My pleasure to share, Kathryn… as it is to get to know you too, though your writing. Glad you enjoyed the post. Actually, I could post many pages on this place. Visiting this lake, and the land around it is almost like a visit to another planet.

  8. Thank you for sharing your interesting photos and info. I like the one with the nuns because it seems unusual to have them on a photo like that.

    • It’s my pleasure to share those things and places that I love… There are quite a few nuns to be found in the holy land… but what I liked about that picture, was that they were just enjoying nature and having fun… and their roles as nuns didn’t seem to interfere at all.

  9. Your first and third photographs remind me of Mono Lake in California, which is also drying up, and whose falling water level has revealed curious structures. I’ve had the experience of floating in the Great Salt Lake of Utah, which is similar in salinity to the Dead Sea. Like you, I prefer to stay in a place so I can get the feel of it, rather than rush from one location to another to cram in as many sights as possible.

    • Thank you very much for coming by, Steve. Many years ago, when I was traveling in the west, I did visit Mono Lake, and liked it very much. I did a little photography there too.

    • If you feel that your picture of Mono Lake are up to par, perhaps you’ll post some of them as a comparison to the Dead Sea.

      • That’s an interesting suggestion, Steve. But I don’t usually compare places, and when I post pictures of a place, I usually write about it too. I have written about some of my travels in the past… and perhaps I will get to the story of Mono lake too. It is perched on a high altitude, and is a sweet water lake. The plant and animal life in the surroundings are different, as well as the geological conditions where the two lakes are found.

  10. Beautiful, so beautiful… Thank you Shimon, you almost took me in this beautiful and amazing place… Maybe one day I make a travel to Dead Sea, I can see once again how would be a great experience for me. And Thank you for your writing too, it is so nice to read you through the photographs… Have a nice day, with my love, nia

    • I am so glad that you enjoyed this post Nia, and if you ever come to my country, I will be happy to be your personal guide, and we could photograph together. My best wishes. You have moved me with your beautiful words.

  11. I wish, I really wish to visit your country. Thank you for your nice words. Have a nice day, with my love, nia

  12. I especially enjoyed the lines “It gives you a chance to tune into the place, and allows the place to get used to you”, The last comment particularly resonantes.

    • Thank you very much, Claire. I’m glad you liked the post. Occasionally I see a comment on a blog I’m following, then check out the commenter, and so find myself attracted to still another world… without any conscious intention to do so. I apologize that I started out by offering my left hand first. It is just that I have taught both art and photography… and at times, I am exasperated by the way the tag ‘portrait’ is used. But I appreciate your grace, and look forward to getting to know you better.

  13. You are welcome, and now I understand a little more about your constructive comment, for that is what it was. And it is no real matter that you think it was an offering of your left hand, it made me stop and think. Certainly a good thing. Sometimes it takes a while for things to filter in, here we are looking in on other people’s worlds, and not everything makes sense straight away.

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