Monday, November 30, 2009

We Get our Aliyah Visas

"And so a torturous, round-about refugee trail sprang up. Paris to Marseilles, across the Mediterranean to Oran [in Algeria], then by train or auto or foot across the rim of Africa to Casablanca in French Morocco. Here the fortunate ones through money or influence or luck might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon, and from Lisbon to the New World. But the others wait in Casablanca, and wait and wait and wait." -- Casablanca, The Movie

It seems like this is what we have been doing for months - wait...and wait...and wait. There is no rushing a government bureaucracy.  I always said it was a good thing I was never a refugee, or I would be dead. Waiting in lines, dealing with bureaucrats, dealing with documents -- these things are not my strong suit. I was encouraged when I heard about Nefesh b'Nefesh and how they took the pain out of dealing with the bureaucracy, but while they make navigating the government hurdles easier, they don't remove any of them. You still have to come up with all of the ridiculous (to me, at any rate) papers that the Israeli Ministry of the Interior insists upon.

If you are young (as many making Aliyah are), there are not so many documents to deal with. If you are older or have a more complicated life, things get more difficult. Most people in their 20s will need a birth certificate and passport. That's it. If you're married, throw in a marriage license. Interestingly, the Ministry of the Interior cares only about civil documents. They don't want any religious documents, such as a Ketubah, but if you are a convert, they want your conversion papers. Divorced, you need the divorce papers, and preferably the corresponding marriage license to go along with it. Proof of Judaism papers in the form of a letter from your Rabbi on official synagogue stationary and your orthodox conversion papers if you are a convert, together with a discription of your course of studies to convert and a letter from your current Rabbi saying that you are still on the derech. All papers must be original or certified copies. What's that you say? You only have copies? Go back to square one until you get all the originals.

One lovely document you will need for almost all of your official civil documents, is an apostille. What's that you say? You've never heard of an apostille? An apostille is the equivalent of an international notary public seal, certifying that the original, certified copy you have is indeed, an original certified copy. It is something one state entity uses to certify a document to another state entity. Why doesn't an apostille need an apostille? Beats me. You'll have to ask the bureaucrats who thought this up, but apparently the possibility of an infinite regression of apostilles proved daunting even to the mind of doughty bureaucrats.

Now the thing that's really silly about an apostille, as if an infinite regression of them isn't silly enough, is that it is much easier to forge than the original document that it vouches for. The only security markings on an apostille are a trivial gold seal, like something out of kindergarten, and watermarked paper. Believe me, if you managed to forge the document the apostille vouches for, you will have no problem forging an apostille. No doubt this does not trouble the mind of the bureaucrat, but it bothers me alot. In fact, I've lost sleep over it, but I suppose it is really not my problem.

An apostille from the State of New York certifying a divorce certificate

To make things really interesting in our case, The Powers That Be were troubled by the fact that the first name on my birth certificate is not the first name I have on the rest of my public documents, such as passport, drivers license, marriage license, etc. I guess my parents just decided they didn't like the name they gave to the nurse to put on my birth certificate and assigned me a different name at my bris. To further complicate matters, when that name was entered onto my official birth certificate, the clerk made two typos, rendering it a word that is not even a name in the English language.

Despite my assurances to the Israeli government that there were only two Machefskys ever born in the State of Tennessee, and I was one of them, they originally insisted I must have my name changed on my birth certificate. This entailed a trip back to Memphis to appear in court with my lawyer to attempt to do so. Here I was summarily ejected from court because Tennessee law requires you to be a resident of the state to change your name. Shoots and Ladders - back to square one.

So, the Israeli government takes pity on me and decides that I only need change my name; that will do, and that I can do in New Jersey, where you need not even be a resident to change your name. Sounds easy, but nothing involving the court system is. Secure another lawyer, in this case a friend who volunteered to help out, submit new court papers, advertise said name change in the local papers (a New Jersey requirement), get on the judges schedule sooner than 3 months by begging and pleading with his clerk, and voila, after 6 weeks, you have become the person you originally were anyway - "Ira Machefsky".

So all of this nahrishkeit takes about 3 months more than we expected, and my wife is really fuming and pissed off. However, it must have been worth all the effort. The letters of transit are finally in our hands:
To all officers. Two German couriers carrying important official documents murdered on train from Oran. Murderer and possible accomplices headed for Casablanca. Round up all suspicious characters and search them for stolen document. IMPORTANT. --Casablanca, The Movie

Ugarti has been shot. Monsieur Rick has signed the Letters of Transit over to us. Soon, we will be on the plane out of Casablanca headed to a new world.

Pam with the precious Letters of Transit

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mitzpe Ramon Homes

Our concrete bunker apartment; ground floor, right

The homes of Mitzpe Ramon seem to have been built in three stages, during three eras. The earliest and oldest were built during the founding of the town in 1950. They lie closest to the crater. The oldest of these resemble concrete bunkers, built of very thick, heavy, monolithic cement walls and stone. I believe our new apartment is in one of these buildings. They are stand-alone, three story structures with walls of foot thick poured concrete. There are two apartments on a side, making for a total of six per building. Many of these apartments are still government subsidized, but the state is trying to divest itself of these obligations by selling the apartments to the current renters at a favorable price or selling them to developers. Our apartment and eight others like it are owned by two brothers who, among other things, are real estate developers.

Our apartment has been completely remodeled with new floors, windows and fixtures installed. The floors are polished Jerusalem stone, inclduding the baseboards, and the windows have integral adjustable shutters that can seal the rooms completely from the desert sun and glass windows in a metal frame that form a tight seal to keep out heat, cold, and blowing dust (of which there is alot). Because the walls and floor are tremendously thick concrete, they have a great deal of thermal inertia. So, even on a very hot day in the summer they tend to remain cool. But once winter starts and they cool down, it can be equally difficult to heat them. Many of the newer homes in Mitzpe Ramon have wood-burning stoves, which the residents tell us is really necesary to keep them warm in winter.

Inside our apartment; note stone floors, base boards and tight-sealing windows with shutters

These kinds of Israeli apartments can be very easy to clean if you don't have rugs or carpeting. Sweep the dirt out the door into a dust bin, pour water on the floor and squeegee it out the front door.

Another view of our apartment building from the adjacent park

Our apartment, and others similar to it, are located about 500 feet from the edge of the crater. This old part of town sits in a small defile with a short and not very steep uphill run to the crater's lip. Below is our daughter's apartment building, just up the street from ours. This street terminates (at the top of the hill) at the narrow strip of land that serves as a buffer between the town and the crater.

Chavie's apartment building (immediate right) just below the crater's rim

At the very edge of town, right next to the crater, are somewhat newer-looking apartment buildings, with many more units than the six-unit bunkers just below them. I haven't been in them, bust they must have great views of the crater from the upper floors.

Apartments by the crater rim which lies immediately to the left of photo.

The second stage of development of the town was on the low plateau that rises 50-80 feet behind these older structures. This is where the Field School was built and the second stage of apartments and some custom homes.

Tower of the Field School and newer apartments on the low plateau in Mitzpe Ramon

The B'nai Akiva Yeshiva is also built in this part of town, together with some custom homes of various size and quality. Below is a custom home that we looked at to rent but ultimately did not go for. The rooms were mostly extremely tiny and laid out in a bizarre pattern. The home's nicest feature was the second floor balcony, which covered something like half the area of the roof and would make a perfect place for a Succah and general outdoor patio. At the time we didn't know it, but the Rosh Yeshiva of the B'nai Akiva school had just finished building a beautiful new home just a few houses to the left of this one.

 Custom home in Mitzpe Ramon

The third area and era of development was the building of tract homes to accommodate the large influx of Russian refugees who came to Israel with the collapse of the Soviet Union. These houses were thrown up in great haste and are something of blight on the landscape with their uniformity and poor construction quality. The walls are very thin and everything about them smacks of shoddy construction. They are mirror image duplexes, which would probably serve better as single family homes if more people could afford to buy and merge them.

A tract home of the Russian emigree era

There is yet a fourth ring of development around the three eras of house building in Mitzpe Ramon and that is the industrial district, which appears to have warehouse-type structures for light manufacturing businesses. I didn't get a chance to explore these at all while in Mitzpe Ramon during our house hunting trip, so I hope to revisit them when we actually arrive.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hotel Kabul by Mark Finkel

My friend Mark Finkel has just returned from a trip to Kabul, where he was doing a project for an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization). Here is his review of the Hotel Diana, Kabul. (All photos by Mark Finkel.)

(Car and driver, Kabul, Afghanistan)

Entrance to the Hotel Diana, Kabul, Afghanistan
The two armed guards in mismatched uniforms greet you with suspicion, but that is friendlier than how they could greet you.  Don't worry that you are entering an unmarked door in a walled block, you will be greeted by yet another unmarked door before you are in the courtyard of the cozy hotel. 

Courtyard and facade of the Hotel Diana, Kabul, Afghanistan

The man at the desk doesn't speak English, but the bell man has a thorough command of 'Hamed take your bags' as well as a smooth move to take said bags, along with most of the skin on your palms.  After trying to decide what a 'Sirename' and a 'Prename' is on the registration form, you realize it really doesn't matter since Hamed, the most literate person there, is unlikely to care.  So, after registering as 'Bill Meelater' you follow Hamed upstairs where a blast of cold air greets you as you enter Room 5.  Stumbling into the dimly lit room, Hamed quickly closes the door, leaving him between you and any hope of escape.  Lowering his voice, he quickly shows you underestimated his command of English by conspiratorially intoning, "Hamed can get you a beer, if you like."  Only wanting him to leave, you reach into your pocket and thrust the smallest bill you have at him realizing, by his grin, that you have just doubled his monthly salary. 

Guard house and tower of Hotel Diana, Kabul
Many makeshift structures in Afghanistan are made from shipping containers. 

With your eyes now somewhat used to the light, you open the bathroom door, facing an even colder blast of air and you are now faced with a serious dilemma:  do you keep the door closed, preserving the 50 degree temperature of the room, but meaning you will have to shower in a 35 degree bathroom, or do you leave the door open and split the difference?  The smell of the bathroom cinches it for door closed. 

You try to turn on either the desk lamp or the bedside lamp, but neither has a bulb.  You think about calling Hamed, but then think better of it.  You can now turn to your other senses and focus your hearing on the roar of the generator outside your room and the reassuring sound of a dog barking outside as if he either has not eaten for a week or there is a terrorist trying to scale the wall.  You know you are in for a great night's rest. Reading is out of the question so, after flipping through all 6 channels and exhausting your vocabulary of Pashto, Urdu and Farsi, you go to bed cursing yourself for not packing your full high peaks outerwear and your minus 40 degrees-rated sleeping bag. 

Waking up early the next morning, you thrust open the curtains to a refreshing view of two coils of piano wire vaguely visible through the dirt-encrusted cracked glass.

View from the window of the Hotel Diana

Remembering the advice of your hosts in town, you go downstairs to tell the person at the front desk that you want the hot water turned on in the bathroom.  You then go upstairs to wait the half hour before showering.  Checking, the red light is lit on the hot water heater in the bathroom.  This lasts for three minutes before that light and all the other power in the hotel goes out.  Resigning yourself to a cold shower in a 35 degree room, you line up your clothes and run in to take a shower.  The trickle of water is so slow anyway that you decide to just go with the extra application of deodorant and, at that moment, you have taken your first step to going native. -- Mark Finkel

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mazel Tov to Israel's Own Yuri Foreman - WBA Light Middleweight Champion of the World

This has nothing to do with Mitzpe Ramon, but everything to do with Israel. Yuri Foreman, born in Russia, raised in Haifa, Israel, and now three years into a four year course of study in Brooklyn to become an Orthodox rabbi, has just taken the World Boxing Association Light Middleweight Campionship of the World title from Puerto Rican Daniel Santos. In a 12 round fight in Las Vegas, Foreman won a unanimous decision against Santos, easily eclipsing the veteran Puerto Rican champio. Foreman was light on his feet, danced every round, and clearly controlled the fight from the second round onward. Watch Foreman's tremendous victory here, and raise a glass of L'chaim to the new Star of David wearing champion of the world, Yuri Foreman!

Click the red arrow, close any windows that may be opened, return here and click the green arrow. This video is free. You don't have to sign-up for or pay anything to see it. Best viewed in full-screen mode. The entire fight is here!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Maximum Security Nafha Prison Outside Mitzpe Ramon

Interesting links:
Yigal Amir moved to Ramon Prison
Ahmed Saadat, who planned 2001 murder of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, moved to Ramon Prison
Onsite wastewater recycling at Nafha Prison, Mitzpe Ramon

Five miles north of Mitzpe Ramon on Route 40 lies a curious sight. An isolated prison sitting in the middle of the Israeli desert.  It has always reminded me of some kind of Devils Island, a prison surrounded by a harsh no man's land. Escape is impossible, and if you do, there's no where to go, no where to hide. I've only whizzed past it on the highway, but further research shows it to be the maximum security Nafha Prison, housing some of Israel's most dangerous terrorist criminals.

Nafha Prison, 5 miles north of Mitzpe Ramon

There is a population of some 700 Palestinian terrorists housed here, including Ahmed Saadat, who masterminded the murder of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001, and the infamous Yigal Amir, who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. One curious piece of online information I found said half of the bus passengers from Be'er Sheva headed to Mitzpe Ramon are bound for the prison, visitors I suppose. (I find this statistic hard to believe.)

 An Internet Photo of Nafha Prison, outside Mitzpe Ramon

Another fascinating factoid about the prison: It reclaims 375,000 gallons of wastewater per day. Use that in your next trivia game!

Wastewater recycling at Nafha Prison, outside Mitzpe Ramon

Route 40 - The Road to Mitzpe Ramon

Useful links:
Google Map of Israel

Route 40 is the only road that leads into and out of Mitzpe Ramon. Except when it enters Ramon's Crater, it looks pretty much like this for its entire length: a well paved two lane highway wandering through a dun colored desert landscape of rolling hills and plateaus.

Route 40, heading north towards Be'er Sheva

Route 40 as it descends into Ramon's Crater

For some reason, I find desert driving to be completely exhausting. Perhaps it is the heat or the sun's glare, but a drive from Mitzpe Ramon to Be'er Sheva, approximately 1 hour, completely exhausts me and leaves me wrung out. I hope I am not getting old.

The View Along Route 40

One of the sights one sees along Route 40 is the occasional orchard. You will be driving along through a complete waste land, when all of a sudden, a patch of green appears on the horizon. It is an irrigated strip of land, usually bearing fruit trees or grape vines. Israel, of course, is a pioneer in techniques of desert irrigation, but what puzzles me the most is how even irrigated plants can gain a perch in the rocky desert soil. I will have to find out more about desert agriculture.

An Orchard Along Route 40

Also ubiquitous along Route 40 are the high tension power lines, which sing incessantly across the desert landscape.

Power Lines Along Route 40 with Desert Totem

Another common sight are the Bedouin shanty towns which line Route 40 for many miles from Be'er Sheva toward Mitzpe Ramon. They seem to grow in size and number every time I make the trip, and about which we will write more later.

Bedouin Shanty Town Along Route 40 Outside Be'er Sheva Toward Mitzpe Ramon

One also sees signs of agrarian and pastoral Bedouin life along Route 40. In the afternoon sun one can see a Bedouin shepard bringing his flock of sheep home across a dun colored hill, the close animals making the hill look like it has come alive with rippling life. On one trip to Be'er Sheva we saw these Bedouin boys on donkey-back tending their small herd of sheep.

Bedouin Boys Tending Flock Along Route 40

There is much to be seen in the desert, if you only have eyes for it.

Sights Around Mitzpe Ramon - The Wise Observatory

Useful links:
Wise Observatory Home Page
Wise Observatory site description and observing conditions
Wise Observatory online astronomical utilities and tools

Although Mitzpe Ramon is situated in the middle of the desert, there are many interesting sights to be seen around and on the way to the town.

As an amateur astronomer, observatories have always been an interest of mine. Fortunately for me, Israel's largest observatory, the Florence and George Wise Observatory of the Tel-Aviv University, is located just 3 miles out of town on a high plateau called the Arad Ascent. The observatory is visible from Mitzpe Ramon as well as from Route 40, just outside of Mitzpe Ramon.

The 3 domes of the Wise Observatory seen from Route 40 on the Arad Ascent

The dark, clear skies and the excellent "seeing" (quietness of the atmosphere) make the high desert around Mitzpe Ramon an ideal location for a large observatory in Israel.

Domes of the Wise Observatory as seen in Tel-Aviv University Photo

The main instrument at the observatory is a 40-inch Ritchey-Chretien reflector built by Boller and Chivens and mounted on a rigid off-axis equatorial base. This is similar to the 48-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on Mount Palomar, made famous for its early deep-field mapping of the entire night sky in the 1940s and 1950s.

Dome of the 40-inch Ritchey-Chretien Reflector of the Wise Observatory (Wise Photo)

The Ritchey-Chretien, like the Schmidt-Cassegrain design, offers very wide-field, well-corrected views of the night sky. Here is an observatory photo of the Wise instrument:

40-inch Ritchey-Chretien Wide-Field Reflector of the Wise Observatory (Wise Photo)

Compare the 40-inch Ritchey-Chretien telescope with its famous cousin, the 48-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain on Mt. Palomar.

48-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain on Mount Palomar, with cosmologist Edwin Hubble at the controls (Mt. Palomar Photo)

The Faint Object Spectrograph and Camera - FOSC (employed for spectroscopy, polarimetry, and very rarely for imaging) is one of the main instruments in use on the 40-inch reflector. Here is the telescope with the instrument mounted:

40-inch Ritchey-Chretien Telescope of the Wise Observatory with FOSC Attached (Wise Photo)

You can visit the observatory during the day time, but should probably call ahead. The Wise Observatory web site can be found here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Ibex of Mitzpe Ramon

If there is one thing that is the hallmark of Mitzpe Ramon, it must be the Ibex. Ibex are a kind of mountain goat with long curving horns and an uncanny ability to climb steep walls, despite having hooves and not a single prehensile appendage anywhere in sight. There is a herd of about 40 that climb down the crater walls at night and climb back up to town at dawn to eat. They are drawn to the trees and foliage which they savor and the garbage and kiddy junk food which they beg from children and tourists. The foliage and trees are only here because of irrigation. Without it the land is hardscrabble rock and dust. The Ibex are such a notable part of the town that murals of them decorate store walls. Here they are shopping and enjoying a cup of coffee.

The young ones spend the better part of each day precariously perched on the crater walls. Seeing these animals scramble up and down the walls, one can't quite understand how they do it. Even while watching them it seems hard to credit their climbing skills, which seem to excel even those of a man with hands and feet for gripping.

Here is part of the herd of more mature animals, lying down in the early morning sunshine in the rock field that separates the crater from the city. They always strike the ground with their hooves before lying down (as seen here), the way a dog digs before lying down in the dirt. This raises a cloud of dust, but does nothing to displace the rocky earth where they are about to lie. I have no idea what such behavior means, in light of its seeming futility.

In the older animals, the horns curve back around their bodies interferring with head movement. This big guy is about 8 years old and is enjoying a meal of grass, supported by the local irrigation hoses, seen in the picture.

The Ibex are free to wander all over town, and their preferred path is walls and balustrades, showing an uncanny sense of poise and balance.

Here an older Ibex mounts a wall to reach his early morning meal of tree leaves and grass.

A very cool head, he calmly continues on his way.

Where is Mitzpe Ramon?

Many people draw a blank when we tell them we are moving to Mitzpe Ramon. It is a small and remote town in Israel's High Desert, so perhaps this is not surprising, unless you have visited it to explore Ramon's Crater or stopeed on your way to Eilat down Route 40. But Mitzpe Ramon is one of the easiest places to visualize: it sits right in the geographic center of the triangle of land that comprises Israel's Negev, the Desert.

"A" marks the spot:

Ramon's Crater itself occupies a remarkably large swath of the Negev with Mitzpe Ramon located at the center of the northern rim. There is only one road, Route 40, that cuts through the center of the crater, linking Eilat to the south with the rest of Israel.

Here is a larger topographic view that gives a better idea of the crater terrain and the wadis and nachlot that run through it.

Here is a topological view from an altitude of 23 miles. The airport indicated by the symbol was proposed but never built in Mitzpe Ramon; however, there are Israeli air force bases nearby.

Finally, this close-in topological street view gives some idea of the town's relationship to the crater, showing just how close the town lies to the crater rim. We live in the old section of town, hard by the crater's rim.

We are moving to Mitzpe Ramon, Israel

Mitzpe Ramon (Ramon's Outlook)
Population: 5600
Lat: 30.612947464, Long: 34.8021125793
"A" marks the spot

We live in Englewood, NJ and are making Aliyah, moving to Mitzpe Ramon, Israel. To many people this just draws a blank reaction; they have no idea where Mitzpe Ramon is. Others react variously depending on their age. Older people tend to double-up in disbelieving laughter. (Joke: "I am going to Mitzpe Ramon." "Why, did you loose something?") Younger people, especially the younger married men we know say something like, "I'd go with you myself, except my wife would divorce me." These contrary responses reflect the dual nature of Mitzpe Ramon's past: at one time a "dumping ground" for Israel's "less desirable" immigrants, "nicht unsere" (not us) as they may have been called by Israel's founding elite of white, Ashkenazic, European Jews and its present as a growing desert, eco-tourist center.

So, what's the story with Mitzpe Ramon?

Mitzpe Ramon was built in 1950 as a temporary town for the workers building Route 40, connecting Beer Sheva with Eilat on the Red Sea. Even in 2009 it is physically remote, 50 miles south of Beer Sheva and 85 miles north of Eilat, with only a few large military bases nearby. A portion of the town's population today is comprised of military and civilian workers at the nearby military bases. It sits in the high desert of the Negev at 800 meters elevation (almost as high as Jerusalem at 900 meters). If you picture the triangle of land that composes Israel's southern Negev, Mitzpe Ramon sits at its geographic center. But the air is dry and a continual, freshening breeze blows there (sometimes quite stiffly), making even the hot desert afternoons bearable. In the winter this same wind makes it quite chilly.

Mitzpe Ramon's most distinguishing feature is that it sits at the rim of the largest geologically created crater in the world, Ramon's Crater (Machtesh Ramon, in Hebrew). The crater is about 650 feet deep from its rim at Mitzpe Ramon, and it extends some 25 miles in length and 5 miles in width. You could fit about 4 Manhattan Islands into its basin. (Craters can be created by impact [meteor-created] or volcanic action, or through geological erosion. Mitzpe Ramon's oblong, irregular shape reflects its creation by geological forces, rather than by impact or volcanic action, which tend to create circular craters.)

Ramon's Crater is the largest nature preserve in Israel, and Mitzpe Ramon is the visitor center for the nature preserve. There are two hotels and a large youth hostel in the town, and many Israelis start their tours or treks of the Crater in Mitzpe Ramon, or stop there to buy food and gas on their way to Eilat. There is a very upscale hotel currently under construction in Mitzpe Ramon, sitting right on the Crater's edge. (Autumn 2009)

Units of Fancy New Hotel Built on the Rim of Ramon's Crater

I have read that the opening of Route 90 down Israel's western border with Jordan has siphoned off alot of traffic from Route 40 to Eilat from the north of Israel, hurting tourism in Mitzpe Ramon, where tourists used to stop and visit the crater on their way to Eilat. But the rise of interest in eco-tourism and all things Green seems to be restoring the flow of tourists to Mitzpe Ramon. This is the source of the younger men's envy at our moving to Mitzpe -- if you are into hiking, biking, or running Ramon's Crater is one of the great places on Earth to do it, and Mitzpe Ramon is just a shout from the crater's edge.

Because of its location in the High Desert and its remoteness from urban centers, the air in Mitzpe Ramon is particularly clean and pure. It also enjoys some of the darkest skies anywhere in Israel. Thus, Israel's largest research astronomical observatory, the Wise Observatory, is located on a small plateau just 3 miles from the center of town. Unfortunately, growth and development of the town seems to be degrading dark sky conditions, and I do not believe the sodium vapor lights even have sky shields on them, quite surprising considering the proximity of the observatory. Nonetheless, Mitzpe Ramon is a prime location for star gazing and meteor watching, bringing out large crowds in the summer when the Perseids meteor shower reaches its peak in early August.

The Wise Observatory, on the Arad Ascent, 3 miles outside Mitzpe Ramon
Correction: These are actually the domes of the IAF radar facility just outside of Mitzpe Ramon. But they look alot like the domes of the Wise Observatory which lies high atop a mountain behind Mitzpe Ramon.

Although Mitzpe Ramon enjoys its new status as a growing eco-tourism destination, for much of its history it was a kind of "dumping ground" for some of Israel's "undesirable" Olim: First the dark-skinned Sephardic Olim from Morocco, later the Black Hebrews of Chicago, then the Russians. Much of the housing in the old part of town was government supported and poverty was high, due to the remoteness of the town. More recently the government has started selling off this government supported housing to its renters and investors. There is a market in the center of town, a Field School, about which I know little, and a B'nai Akiva Yeshiva moved to Mitzpe Ramon about 10 years ago from Dimona. There is also a Chabad that is building a new center. The Yeshiva has certainly changed the character of the town. There are about 150 families who belong to the Yeshiva community, and you see them and their children everywhere you go.

Whether observant or not, the town, I assume like many smaller towns in Israel, is quite traditional. As Shabbos starts, everything closes down, cars and buses stop running, stores close, and all becomes silent, with only the desert wind and the hum of air conditioners heard. It is really quite amazing.
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