Sunday, February 28, 2010

Quote of the Day - Esther and Mordechai

For the Jews there was light and happiness, joy and glory."
Megillat Esther, 8:16

Mitzpe Ramon Megillah reading

The Black Hebrews of Mitzpe Ramon do it

That is, celebrate Purim. At least they dress up for it.

When I was in school in Chicago in the '60s and '70s, a group of Chicago blacks came to prominence from the Black Hebrew Israelites. They believed that the true Jews were black and that they were descended from the ancient Israelites. They were one of many kind of scary black groups in Chicago at the time. I remember driving past their building on Chicago's South Side. It had stained glass windows with menorahs and Stars of David. Of course, the Black Hebrews were far from the only black religious group active in Chicago. Most notoriously there was the Nation of Islam that claimed Muhammed Ali and Malcolm X as members. In recent times, Louis Farrakhan, the current leader of the NOI, has gained scandalous notoriety through his anti-semitic pronouncements.

In any case, some of the Black Hebrews, who are black but not Jewish, decided to decamp from Chicago and made their way to Libya, where they were not welcomed with open arms. They later came to Israel and settled in the Negev in Dimona, the site of Israel's nuclear reactor. Some eventually moved farther south to Mitzpe Ramon. I don't know how many Black Hebrews live in Mitzpe Ramon now, but one of our upstairs neighbors is a member of the group. I see them around town all the time. They speak Hebrew fluently, and always greet you with a "shalom" or "shabbat shalom".

It is amazing to me that their English is still accented with the cadences of South Side Chicago. While sitting in the CafeNeto photographing the face painting just before Purim, the gentleman below came in doing a rap song about Mitzpe Ramon. He said he was dressed as Bat Dog for Purim.

A Black Hebrew dressed as "Bat Dog" for Purim

He was performing his Mitzpe Ramon rap, which he interrupted to give me this account of his costume.

                        "Bat Dog"

Then he went back to rapping...

                 "Bat Dog" rapping in the CafeNeto


Face Painting for Purim at the CafeNeto

Continuing the theme of early Purim preparations, the staff and denizens of the CafeNeto in Mitzpe Ramon had their faces painted on Friday, three days before Purim. The face paint artist was Isabelle (left), who made Aliyah to Israel from South Africa 14 years ago. She teaches English in the local school system.

The staff of the 'Neto lined up to have their faces done, and this was the result:

CafeNeto staff painted for Purim

 Itamar, one the denizens of the 'Neto

Preparing for Purim

Purim is a very big deal in Israel. It makes Halloween in the U.S. look like a flash in the pan. Preparations for Purim start early. We were in a mall in Ashdod on Wednesday, five days before Purim, and all of the teenagers were already decked out in their costumes. However, it did appear, at least this soon before Purim, that it was mostly the girls who were dressed up.

This party area in an Ashdod Mall was filled with teens already dressed for Purim

 Blonde descending stairs in the manner of Braque

One thing that did surprise me was how risque the girls costumes were, not at all like the costumes of my childhood, where everyone dressed up in some costume related to Purim, either Esther, Mordechai, Haman, Achaschverous, or some other Megillah character or Purim object. 
Perhaps they're all just dressed like Vashti?
 Dressed for Purim

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Dog Whisperer of Mitzpe Ramon

Yardena is the Dog Whisperer of Mitzpe Ramon.

There are many domestic animals that live around town, many of them are homeless or abandoned. The cats pretty much take care of themselves, but the dogs are another matter, since they depend on humans for food, water, affection and shelter. Mitzpe Ramon does not seem to have an animal control officer, and one friend told me that once when he was bitten by a cat, it was his responsibility to watch the animal and make sure it didn't develop Rabies.

There are people who put food out for the animals and some even throw their edible garbage on the ground for them near the public waste containers. Needless to say, this can make for a third-world feel to Mitzpe Ramon. Because the town is so isolated, some unfortunate animals are brought here to be abandoned by their uncaring owners.

Yardena takes care of as many of these homeless and abandoned animals as she can. She takes them into her home, cares for them, feeds them, and provides medical attention, all from her own personal resources. She has a vet come from Tel Aviv every other week and pays him to take care of the sick and injured. Many is the day she spends with him while he is performing surgery on the injured. She takes photos of these animals and advertises them for adoption, in the mean time taking care of them herself.

Yardena, her daughter Alin, and one of their charges at the CafeNeto

 Recently, a bitch had a litter of two puppies near our house. They were very cute when small, not so cute as they grew up in the streets. Pam says one was adopted, but Yardena told me he died in her house from Distemper diesease, the most common killer of homeless puppies. That left one sadly abandoned female, who is oddly and intermittently taken care of. She sleeps in the park outside our house and plays with the odd piece of trash. Even we started feeling sorry for her, giving her food and water. I guess I can't blame the animal feeders anymore.

Abandoned dog of Mitzpe Ramon

Gas Girls of Israel - Nicole from Canada

Gasoline stations in Israel are mostly full-service, although one does encounter the occassional self-service station. In some of the stations I was surprised to see women as gas attendants. Then, as I began to see more and more of them, we were stopped in Ashdod and came across a station that was "manned", if you will, by an almost completely female staff, inside and out. Our service attendant was Nicole from Canada, who had made Aliyah 30 years previously, although she didn't look 30 years old to me. She spoke fluent English, but with an Israeli accent. And she was very helpful. Thank you, Nicole!

Israeli Gas Girl - Nicole from Canada


Quote of the Day - Tzipi Livni, Jerusalem Post 2/24/2010

“Every terrorist must know that no one will support him when a soldier, and it doesn’t matter what soldier, tries to kill him, whether it is in the Gaza Strip, Afghanistan or Dubai...I don’t expect the world to welcome the killing of terrorists, but I do expect the world to not criticize it.”  Tzipi Livni, Jerusalem Post, 2/24/2010

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Russian Photographer of Mitzpe Ramon

We see this gentleman around town quite a bit. He gets around on a trike with a basket in the back for carrying packages. He mostly speaks Hebrew and Russian. When I was sitting at the town center one Friday waiting for Pam we struck up a conversation. As near as I can make out, he comes from somewhere very cold in Russia, perhaps Siberia. His family is now in Israel, and he was very proud of them as he showed me their photos.  I was surprised at how well the photos were done on a cell phone camera.

He asked if he could see my camera, which I was reluctant to hand over, since at that point he hadn't told me he used to be a photographer in Russia. So, I let him take it while I kept hold of the wrist strap. He thanked me and said he had been a photographer. At that point, I felt kind of bad I hadn't been more generous in letting him look at my camera, but he seemed satisfied.

I asked him what he did now. He said, "Achshav klum." ("Now, nothing.")

The Russian Photographer of Mitzpe Ramon

First Flowers of Spring

I saw the very first flowers of Spring today in Mitzpe Ramon. These aren't desert wild flowers, they are cultivated in the local park. But it's still a good sign.

Juniper in bloom

There are many Juniper bushes in Mitzpe Ramon. They are a hardy evergreen and the first to bloom in Spring. In fact, these have been blooming since about Tu B'Shevat, but since they are still going strong I include them here now.

A daisy blooms among the Juniper bushes

This interesting tree with seed pods still hanging from the branches also just started blooming after Tu B'Shevat and is just now coming into its own.

And what garden would be complete without weeds?
A dandelion among thorns.

The rose beds have started being watered with drip irrigation, too. Should be interesting to see what comes up here in a while.
A rose bed in Mitzpe Ramon under drip irrigation.


People of Mitzpe Ramon - Stylish Tourist in Sequined Pant Suit

There are always interesting people in and about Mitzpe Ramon. A few days ago I saw this stylish tourist in a black velvet sequined pant suit. Note the matching glasses.

Sequined pant suit lady at the CafeNeto


Quote of the Day - Sarah Honig, Jerusalem Post, 2/19/2010

“As in yesteryear, so in the 21st century, it's axiomatic that Arabs have the right to inflict incalculable harm on Jews, but Jews' attempts to deflect such blows are evil, outrageous and deserving of merciless punishment...Failure to admit how selective Arab rules of warfare are, precludes making sense of anything in our region and dooms to failure any so-called peace drives and mediation efforts."; Sarah Honig, Jerusalem Post, 2/19/2010

Thursday, February 18, 2010

If You Can't Scuba Dive, Might as Well Mud Dive

The torrential winter rain storms of January 17-18 cut off travel along Route 40 at a number of places. The road between Sede Boker and Mitzpe Ramon was severed by overflowing wadis in several locations and there were major floods along Nachal Paran, south of Mitzpe Ramon toward Eilat.

Route 40 between Sede Boker and Eilat

One major area of flooding was in Sede Boker, right at the entrance to Ben Gurion's desert home and his burial place overlooking the Ein Avdat Valley.
Flooding at Sede Boker and Ben Gurion's desert home and burial site. Note the overturned bus stop.

With the main road south to Eilat blocked for several days, tourists were forced to improvise their vacation plans.

What's a tourist to do if you can't get to Eilat?

 If you can't scuba dive, might as well mud dive. Let me tell you, that water is COLD!

An Oasis in the Desert

You see these as you drive along the highway. A lone tree standing far off or a cluster standing in a verdant patch of green. What could these be and how could they be in this barren waste? I often wondered this about the strange oases of green that I would see driving along Route 40. They were clearly not watered by springs bubbling from the ground. After the desert storms of this winter I started to understand.

An oasis of green in the barren waste of Machtesh Ramon

There are declivities in the desert landscape, some larger some smaller. Some are quite large, basically basins in the ground. During the dry season these topographic differences are hard to detect with the naked eye. When rain falls, however, these declivities gathter the waters unto themselves. Along the drainage paths of the waters, gullies and wadis form, giving way as they spread out to these shallow basins where waters gather. It is along these water trails and gatherings that plants and even trees begin to grow.

The photo above is of one of these basins in Machtesh Ramon. It is quite deep, since this is a mature tree growing near its center. As I observed these basins I also started to notice the work of man. There were berms that had been thrown up on the downhill side of the declivities' drainage, to hold even more water then they would naturally contain. When the water evaporates, the soil continues to hold moisture, giving rise to these mysterious patches of trees and grass, oases in a barren land.

The Storm of the Century - Aftermath III

Machtesh Ramon is drained by three rivers. The chief of these is Nachal Ramon that runs down the crater's center. All three are usually bone dry. After last month's rains all the rivers were freely flowing.
This dramatic shot shows Nachal Ramon with Mt. Ardon in the background.

Nachal Ramon flows with water. Mt. Ardon in the background.

Mt. Ardon is part of the crater's northeast wall, so it is actually a cliff, rather than a free-standing mountain. It is located at the point of the crater's heart-shaped septum.

"A" marks Mt. Ardon

 The mountain is well seen in the photo below, a distance of about 10 miles from this vantage point.

Mt. Ardon, center right, at the "point" of the prominent white cliffs

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Storm of the Century - Aftermath II

It is exactly a month since the Storm of the Century dumped over 6.5 inches of rain on the Negev in 24 hours, more than had fallen in the past 10 years altogether. In its aftermath, dry river beds and wadis ran with flash floods, overflowed their banks, and washed away roads, guard rails, cars, trucks and people.

 Nachal Paran (A) and Nachal Meishar, about 40 miles south of Mitzpe Ramon

Nachal Paran is a dry river valley that lies about 40 miles south of Machtesh Ramon on the way to Eilat. Where it crosses Route 40 it joins another dry river bed, Nachal Meishar. These two rivers gushed with flash floods after last month's storms, overflowing their banks and washing away parts of Route 40. Some big trucks were unfortunate enough to try to cross Route 40 during the floods, where their drivers got into big trouble.

 Trucks caught in the flood waters of Nachal Paran

In the photo below a number of drivers and passengers get stranded on top of their vehicles as the flood waters rise.

A helicopter is called in to rescue the stranded victims.

The hapless drivers are pulled to safety in the nick of time.


Be careful when you drive in desert storms and don't take any unnecessary chances with water covered roads!


The Storm of the Century - Aftermath I

By Tuesday, January 19, the rains had subsided leaving Mitzpe Ramon shrowded in a thick pea soup fog. In town the fog covered everything with a cold haze.

A thick fog covered Mitzpe Ramon after the storm

Out on the Machtesh, a complete white out wrapped the crater in a thick gauze of white.
Post-storm fog whites out the Machtesh

But by late afternoon, the fog had burned off leaving blue sky with fair weather cumulus clouds.

 Fair weather cumulus with some thunderheads remain after the fog burns off

Around town, large pools of water accumulated everywhere.

And a young Ibex wanders about in the post rain fog.

A young Ibex wanders near the Lookout in the post-storm fog in Mitzpe Ramon


The Storm of the Century - II

The following day rain continued to pour down on Mitzpe Ramon and the central Negev. A rare collision of warm, moist air from Africa and cold air from Eastern Europe had created a storm that most had not seen in their lifetime. Over 6.5 inches of rain fell within 24 hours, more than had fallen in the past 10 years altogether.

I head to the Crater Overlook to experience the full force of the storm

Your intrepid reporter beats a hasty retreat from the fury of the storm


The Storm of the Century

On the evening of Sunday, January 17 and continuing through the next day, the Negev saw summer thunderstorms not seen in over 100 years. In one 24 hour period 6.5 inches of rain fell, more than had fallen on the Negev in preceding 10 years altogether.

The storm began as we headed back to Mitzpe Ramon from Be'er Sheva in the early evening. As we drove south the sky began to darken with clouds, and as night fell, the horizon was lit with almost continuous flashes of lightning all around us. The air began to smell of rain and suddenly it was gushing all around us. These weren't just drops but spikes of rain, long and thick and punishing as they fell. Lightning flashed all around us, as thick as a wrist before my eyes, and thunder crashed all about.

I began to fear that we might encounter a flash flood in a Wadi that would wash away the road. But the presence of a car on the road ahead of us, a bolder driver than I, gave me confidence to continue. At least he would hit the swollen Wadi first and I could stop in time from being washed away.

Fortunately, we encountered no such overflowing Wadis that night. But by the next day, drivers were not so fortunate. The road between Sde Boker and Mitzpe Ramon was flooded in many places, and in one case the rains had washed away a portion of the highway and completely crushed the guard rail at that point in the road. Several drivers were washed away and killed in the floods, and at least one driver had to be rescued from his flood-stranded truck by helicopter.

 A cloud to ground lightning strike develops over Machtesh Ramon

 The lightning illuminates the clouds and far side of the Machtesh

Climax of the stroke. The river that drains the Machtesh can be seen reflecting the stroke's light.

This cloud to cloud stroke illuminates the north face of the crater:


Stroke climax

The storm developed just 3 days after a national day of fasting and prayer to appeal to the Almighty to bring rain to a drought parched Israel.

Why Did the Camel Cross the Road?

Some in the Middle East say it was a Zionist plot. Others that, like the chicken, it was to get to the other side. On one of our too many trips to Be'er Sheva to get medical care we were stopped just outside of town by a herd of camels that were being driven across Route 40 to the other side of the road.

Camels cross Route 40 just outside Be'er Sheva

All along Route 40 between Be'er Sheva and Mitzpe Ramon are signs that say "Beware of Camels by the Road".  Despite having driven this route many times, I have never seen a camel by the road before. 

  "Beware of Camels Near the Road"

 The one exception was on our taxi ride to Mitzpe Ramon from Ben Gurion when we made Aliyah. On that occasion I saw two Bedouin racing their camels by the side of Route 40.

Hobbled camels on Route 40

There are Bedouin shanty towns that line Route 40 outside of Be'er Sheva toward Mitzpe Ramon for some distance, and they do have livestock plus the occasional camel. But these camels are usually far from the road, usually just an isolated one or two, and standing so stock still that they might be environmental art.

So, it was quite a surprise to see so many camels making a huge commotion as they were driven across the road. The front legs of the camels are hobbled with ties to keep them from running away. Despite this attempt at control, the occasional camel does try to escape. This big boy first tried running toward Be'er Sheva until he was beaten back with big sticks by the Bedouin. He then tried running in the opposite direction toward Miztpe Ramon, until they beat him back into the herd. 

A big camel tries to make his escape from the Bedouin

The herd of camels made quite a hew and cry, sounding like something out of the Silence of the Lambs. Once they got to the other side of the road things quieted down and we continued on our way.

Cries like something out of the Silence of the Lambs

Purim Starts Early in Israel

The Purim countdown timer says it is just 10 days and 18.5 hours until Purim. But they start celebrating Purim early in Israel, right after Tu b'Shevat in fact. Tu b'Shevat was Saturday, January 30th this year. As soon as Shabbat ended, preparations for Purim were in full swing.

 Dressed for Purim at Toys-r-Us

We went to Be'er Sheva that Saturday evening and visited the Toys-r-Us store in the "One" shopping center. The clerks were already dressed for Purim and the costume department was under full attack by the children. Just like Christmas after Thanksgiving, but Jewish!

Toys-r-Us in Be'er Sheva immediately after Tu b'Shevat

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