Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Preparing for Pesach in Mitzpe Ramon

Preparing for Pesach in Mitzpe Ramon reminds me of being in California. The whole outdoors is like an extension of your house, so you can take yourself and your chametz outside as you finish preparations for the holiday. On Sunday I took a glutton-load of chametz to the CafeNeto where it could be safely eaten while Pam cleaned the house of all chametz. As we know, chametz is like Plutonium, only a needle head's worth can kill. So off I went to the 'neto's friendly outdoor tables to satisfy my final cravings for bread.

Enough chametz for all the Jews in Israel, but all mine at the 'neto.

Bedikas chametz was a snap in our apartment, because after 3 months, we still haven't been able to use the kitchen. Until recently, there just has been no place to unpack our kitchen boxes, so we've been eating out or with Chavie and Donny.

On Monday morning, Donny and I took our chametz to the park near the Bio-Ramon zoo, just below the visitor center and burned it in the BBQ pits.

Burning chametz below the visitor center... a lizard looks on.

There is industrial scale preparation for Pesach in Israel, as most restaurants and food stores are open during Chol HaMoed. In Israel there is actually a law forbidding the sale of chametz during Pesach in public, however the Israeli Supreme Court has watered it down to include only the sale of chametz outdoors, not within the confines of a restaurant. Despite this piece of legal legerdemain, almost all kosher restaurants and food stores convert from chametz to kosher for Pesach status. At the Supersol in Mitzpe Ramon, this included blocking off aisles that were mostly chametz foods, and papering over other aisles and labeling them "chametz", with kosher for Pesach foods stacked in front on temporary shelves.

The fast-food shops in Mitzpe Ramon have some of their busiest days during Chol HaMoed, so they all convert their wares to kosher for Pesach status with the supervision of a mashgiach and heavy duty gas bruners heating giant pots of water for kashering utensils.

Masgiach (left) works with helper to kasher tables while the big pot of water boils on the right to the roar of a gigantic gas burner.

Quote of the Day - The Hagaddah

Next Year in Jerusalem.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring Returns - March 28, 2010

Spring weather returned today, just in time for Pesach. After Friday's and Saturday's cold rain storms, the sun rose into clear skies on Sunday. By mid-day, the temperatures were balmy and shirt sleeve weather prevailed. At 11:30 AM --

Temp: 64F
Humidity: 94%
Wind: light @ 1 mph out of the north


Shabbat HaGadol in Mitzpe Ramon

Yesterday was Shabbat HaGadol. I went to Chabad, and the little shul was chock-a-block with people, almost standing room only. This was in addition to the large crowd of guests who had packed into the Chabad House for Shabbat.

Rabbi Slonim gave the Shabbat HaGadol drush during Shacharit. He spoke mostly in Hebrew, so I didn't follow it very well, but part of it had to do with why the Talmudic tractate that deals with the laws of Pesach is in the plural ("Pesachim") while all of the other Talmudic tractates dealing with holidays are singular (Rosh Hashanah, Megillah, Shabbat, Succoth, etc.). I gather from my sketchy Hebrew that this has something to do with the collective nature of the redemption from Egypt and the fact that the Pesach sacrifice was brought only by groups of people.

After shul, walking the short distance back in the cold and rain, we had lunch with Chavie and Donny and their friends Asael, his wife Channah, and their children. Asael is an ecology student at Ben Gurion University in Sede Boquer, where he is doing research on desert bats. His research deals with studying bat drinking behavior in the desert.

There is an invasive species of Mediterranean bat that has gained a foot hold by hop scotching from one small settlement to another. It needs to drink water to survive in the desert. This it does by swooping down while dragging its tongue through pools of water, while the native desert bats receive all the water they need through eating insects alone, an amazing evolutionary adaptation to desert life.

 The Giant Mediterranean Bat -- about the size of a pigeon

Asael uses a special bat voice recorder to determine which species is at a watering hole. The invasive species has a tone at around 10 Khz, while the native bats cheep at a much higher frequency, around 200 Khz, far beyond human hearing. He has discovered that the invasive species can be kept out by placing strips of plastic on a watering hole, which prevents them from swooping down to drink, and may be used to control their numbers.

After a lovely Shabbat meal prepared by Chavie, we waited for a break in the rain and all ran home.

A Happy and Kosher Pesach to all!

Yesterday's Spring Storm Continues into Shabbat

I thought yesterday's Spring storm would peter-out in the evening. But no, when I awoke in the morning it was still raining, a cold wind was blowing, and deep puddles stood everywhere in Mitzpe Ramon. Throughout the afternoon the rain continued falling, sometimes quite hard. I would estimate the temperature in the 40s, wind chill in the 30s, with the wind blowing and gusting strongly out of the west. Several times during the day local streets were flooded with water runoff.

Satellite image on Saturday, 3/27/10 @ 4:00 AM

I later found out from Hanny at the 'neto that Route 40 between Sede Boquer and Mitzpe Ramon was closed from flooding several times during the day as the Wadis overflowed the road. I would estimate about two inches of rain fell over the 24 hours of the storm. Mitzpe Ramon's average annual rainfall is about 3.4 inches, which means we received about 2/3rds of our annual rainfalll in just one day. This is in addition to the 6+ inches of rain that have already fallen this year. During the earlier Winter rains in January, Mitzpe Ramon received more rain during one 48 hour period than had fallen altogether in the past 10 years. It has, indeed been a wet year, resulting in lots of desert flowers this Spring.

Desert flowers have bloomed in great numbers in this very wet year.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring Storm over Machtesh Ramon

A Spring storm blew into Machtesh Ramon today, sending temperatures into the 40s with winds gusting out of the west to 25mph. It was all quite dramatic. A lazy Spring morning...suddenly the wind picked up...clouds blew over head...then showers, followed by even colder temperatures.

The machtesh was splendid in dappled sun, fog and rain. The colors are even more intense when set off by dark sky and spotlights of sunshine.

Spring storm over Machtesh Ramon (stitched panorama - click for full size image)

For a while a rainbow tried to squeeze through, but it remained very faint but still beautiful.

A rainbow over Machtesh Ramon - faint but beautiful

Cell Phone Wall of Shame - The Phlebotomist

Time for another entry on the Cell Phone Wall of Shame - and another paramedical professional, sad to say. I went to the Maccabi Health Service in Mitzpe Ramon for some standard blood work I get done twice a year. The phlebotomist was a youngish woman in a long black skirt with her head covered - an observant Israeli woman. I should have been alerted when she approached me needle in hand and ungloved. I made a half-serious gesture to ask her to put on gloves which she just shrugged off, or perhaps she just didn't understand me, since she spoke no English.

My brother, who is a doctor, tells me that not gloving is her problem, not mine, since it is she, not me, who runs the risk of infection. Still, it made me uncomfortable. While she was drawing the blood, her cell phone started ringing clamorously. I wondered if she would stop in the middle of collecting my blood to answer her damned cell phone. But no, she let it ring annoyingly through until it stopped. But immediately after drawing my blood, and while she was still filling out the work sheet on the computer, she called her caller black and started a pleasant chit-chat, no doubt more important than giving full attention to working with me and my blood.

As I was about to leave she gave me a piece of gauze to apply pressure to the crook in my elbow, but when I asked her for tape to hold it in place she indicated there was no need. I sarcastically asked her if she would wash the shirt if I got blood on it. Let me tell you - sarcasm does not work when delivered in a language the listener doesn't understand. I ran into Pam as I was walking out, she coming in to have her own blood test, and told her this story and showing her my elbow, which sure enough, had started bleeding. I went back to the phlebotomist and this time insisted on a piece of tape for the gauze, which she reluctantly gave me.

I complained about her being on the phone to the front desk and they said they'd tell the manager, but did counter with the lame excuse, "Well, she has a lot of children." Huh?

Maccabi Health Center in Mitzpe Ramon

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Quote of the Day - Ruth Wisse, WSJ - "How About an Arab 'Settlement' Freeze"

Of the children of Abraham, the descendants of Ishmael currently occupy at least 800 times more land than descendants of Isaac...Since 1948 upward of 800,000 Jews abandoned their homes and forfeited their goods in Egypt, Iraq, Morocco and Yemen. In addition to assets valued at hundreds of billions of dollars, the property deeds of Jews from Arab lands is estimated at a total area of 100,000 square miles, which is five times the size of the state of Israel, and more than Israel would include even if it were to stretch over all the disputed territories of the West Bank. -- Ruth Wisse, Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2010, "How About an Arab 'Settlement' Freeze"

Fellini in Beer Sheva's Old City

Beer Sheva is a biblically ancient site -- the place where Avraham made Avimelech swear to acknowledge his having dug his wells (hence the name "Beer Sheva", the Well of the Oath); the place where Isaac dug seven wells (hence, perhaps, the Well of Seven). The current Old City, established in 1900, is the only city planned and built entirely by the Ottoman Turks in the 400 years of their Caliphate. The plan for the Old City was originally designed by a German and a Swiss architect, calling for a grid pattern, which is still quite evident today.

The original grid pattern of the Old City is still in place today.

It has been dressed-up and gentrified by the new city which has grown around it, but it still looks to me like an ugly dowager wearing too much makeup. New Beer Sheva, on the other hand, I find quite interesting and attractive, a bustling center of commerce, medicine, culture, the arts and education, Israel's 4th largest and the administrative center of all things in the Negev.

We were wandering in the Old City streets of Beer Sheva, an unlovely place if there ever was one. The streets are narrow and seem to close in on you, even though most of the buildings are just a squat one story high. There is an oppressive and suffocating atmosphere, despite the attempts of the new city to modernize and gentrify the neighborhood with trendy shops and boutiques. The many bridal and wedding planning shops combine with the tawdry tourist, tchatshke and food vendors to make for a Felliniesque atmosphere.

A felliniesque bridal gown on the side show streets of the Old City of Beer Sheva

  This photo does not do justice to the oppressive feeling induced by the sight of the building.

Together with the newer buildings, many old buildings from the days of Ottoman rule remain. They are badly built, ugly and generally have ungainly proportions, coming as a surprise if you are used to the antique buildings of Jaffa or Jerusalem's Old City and walls.
A wall remaining from the Ottoman days of the Old City of Beer Sheva

Near the center of the Old City lies a reconstruction of Abraham's Well, together with another well of much later date. The reconstruction uses a system of lifts that raise the water to an aqueduct that runs the length of the Old City's central town square, returning it to the well in a closed loop.

 A reconstruction of Abraham's Well in the town square of Beer Sheva's Old City

Aqueduct carrying water in Beer Sheva's Old City town square

The Old City's town square has also been provided with fountains adjacent to the aqueduct. The whole thing seems too tschatchkafied and artificial in a place that is steeped in so much real history, but it is  still a big improvement on what the Ottoman Turks left behind to work with.

Modern fountains recall Beer Sheva's watery past.

Perhaps one of the creepiest aspects of the Old City is the old Muslim cemetery, a huge plot of land surrounded by fences with warnings to keep out. The upheaved old tombs and graves make it look like a real Night of the Living Dead took place there. It appears that this is another disputed piece of real estate in the battle between the Jews and Muslims to control the Holy Land.

Muslim cemetery in Beer Sheva's Old City

 "Muslim Cemetery - Keep Out by Order of the Municipality of Beer Sheva and the Committee for the Advancement of Bedouins in the Negev"

Don't let my comments put you off visiting the Old City. It is certainly interesting in a freakish kind of way to me. And I will also note that my opinion of the Old City is a minority one, since most of the people I have spoken to like it quite a bit and seem to think the modernization is a success and a big improvement over the Arab slum that used to be there. And there are always interesting sights with great people watching. A big plus -- the Old City is quite safe any time, day or night.
Interesting sights abound in Beer Sheva's Old City -- A bride prepares for her wedding.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Annette Fein - An Artist of Mitzpe Ramon

On Sunday my friend Chaim introduced me to Annette, an artist and teacher of Mitzpe Ramon. Annette made aliyah from Union, New Jersey in 1962 (I believe she said). She has lived in Jerusalem, and now Mitzpe Ramon for the last 14 years. In the past she worked extensively in embroidery, with fantastically complex and intricate work in Jewish themes. Now she works mostly in drawings but especially colored sand design on stone and sometimes wood.

Her shop in the industrial part of Mitzpe Ramon is hung from floor to ceiling with examples of her work, with nary a space left for any more. She also designs and sews her own clothing and hats which are for sale as well. She runs art workshops for children and her space feels very inviting for contemplative creation.

She has two Belgian German Shepherds, a mother and daughter, that are very large but friendly looking creatures. The daughter has epilepsy, but her seizures are well controlled with some special vitamins Annette buys in Beer-Sheva. Since we were going to Beer-Sheva the next day, I offered to pick up a fresh bottle for her.

"Annette Fine" in her studio in Mitzpe Ramon

Annette takes photos of all the people who have been through her workshops. Since there is no space in the studio to display them, she hangs them in her back work room.
Some of Annette's students

Chaim with some of Annette's clothing and hats in the background

Barbara from Eilat

Today I met Barbara from Eilat at the 'neto. She is a retired interior decorator with the Isratel Hotel chain. She lives in Eilat and was traveling north to explore the spring scenery in the northern part of the country. She is German, has been in Israel for 20 years and speaks at least German, Hebrew, and English fluently and mostly without an accent. She said she had seen me at the 'neto before. (I do spend alot of time there.)

We agreed that given what the current work environment looks like, it's better to be happily retired than unhappily employed. We both said we worried what our childrens' work lives and careers would be like, since we didn't envy people just entering the work force. This not simply because of the Great Recession, but because the modern work place has become such a pinched, selfish, mean spirited, hyper-competitive, and political place to be. Well, those are my thoughts on the matter in a very small nutshell.

Barbara of Eilat

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring Sprang Sprung in Mitzpe Ramon

Today was Shabbos and the first day of Spring in Mitzpe Ramon. It was completely sunny, without a cloud in the sky, but quite chilly. As  the day wore on the temperatures rose with the sun, probably hitting the low 60s after noon. As the sun set, the wind picked up, as it usually does here, and the temperature dropped into the 40s. It's supposed to be much warmer later this week, in the low 70s, starting tomorrow.

At 10:45PM, Saturday March 20, 2010:

Temperature: 48F
Wind Chill: 45F
Humidity: 73%
Wind: Gusting out of the west to 6mph

Friday, March 19, 2010

We Rendezvous with Baboo and Chewbaca

On Monday night of this week (March 15) we rendezvoused with Babbo and Chewbaca, our hiker friends, in Dimona to bring them the camping gear they needed for the middle part of their hike along the Israel National trail. The size of Dimona surprised me, about 34,000 (6x larger than Mitzpe Ramon), including 3,000 Black Hebrews led by their founder and spiritual leader, Ben Ammi Ben-Israel (Son of my people son of Israel). As of late Dimona has become home to many illegal African immigrants to Israel, and the crime rate has soared.

Chewbaca and Baboo had stocked up at one of the Dimona markets with food and water for the trail, so we drove them back to the trail head where they were camping for the night, about 15 miles east of Dimona. There was an ancient Nabatean fortress ruin here, which we spent some time exploring in the dark with our lights. It was quite huge, with many rooms.

 Exploring the Nabatean Fortress ruin outside of Dimona (click for full size image)

We helped Baboo and Chewbaca set up their tents and said our goodbyes. We hope to see them again after Pesach and perhaps spend a night or two on the trail with them.

Setting up tents on the Israel National Trail outside Dimona with Baboo and Chewbaca

 Goodnight for now to Chewey and Baboo


It's a Dog's Life in Mitzpe Ramon

It's a fine day in Mitzpe Ramon, the day before the Vernal Equinox when Spring begins. It was chilly this morning, a leftover from yesterday when we were the coldest place in Israel again. As the morning advanced and towards noon the temperatures warmed from the sun to 58.7F with humidity of 45% and winds light from the west at an average of 2.5mph. Even the dogs took a snooze in the warm mid-day sun. Happy Chag Ha'Aviv to all from Mitzpe Ramon.

 A semi-homeless dog of Mitzpe Ramon snoozes in the noon day sun.

Weather Extremes Hit the Desert - Mitzpe Ramon Again the Coldest Place in Israel

Weather extremes have been pounding the desert. At the beginning of this week a Chamsin was blowing hot winds and a dust storm into Mitzpe Ramon. The temperature was in the mid-90s and the air was filled with dust. On Tuesday, March 16 there was an extensive fog throughout Israel, together with dust from the Chamsin that resulted in a brown goo in the air that was quite repulsive. Driving and breathing were difficult. Infrared satellite imagery showed all of Israel immersed in cloud cover or fog cover, I don't know which, but I had never seen the entire country's outline blotted out by the weather like that before. By Wednesday the weather had started to turn, and on Thursday morning there was light rain followed by plummeting temperatures.

Earlier on the 18th, there were fair weather cumulous that would be pushed away by dark rain clouds from time to time and gusty winds. By this evening, March 18, Mitzpe Ramon had once again become the coldest place in Israel. At 10:30PM conditions were:

Temp: 45F
Wind chill: 39F
Humidity: 85%
Winds: Out of the west and gusting to 10mph

Altogether a nasty return to winter after an early taste of summer.

Quote of the Day - Yossi Klein Halevi

Israel's insistence on survival remains the obstacle to peace. - Yossi Klein Halevi, New Republic, March 16, 2010

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Shabbat in Mitzpe Ramon

It was a lovely spring Shabbat day in Mitzpe Ramon. The temperature was warm but pleasant, somewhere in the low 90s but the traditional low humidity and light breeze kept things comfortable, at least in the shade.

I count 6 Shabbat minyans, possibly 7. There is the crater shul, just up the street from us, with an Ashkenazic minyan on one side and a Sephardic minyan on the other. Then there is the main Sephardic shul and the Chabad down the street toward the center of town, followed by the kolel yeshiva minyan and the shul just up the street from them. Sometimes the high school yeshiva boys stay in town and they have another large minyan across the park from the crater shul.

The crater shuls -- Sephard on the left, Ashkenaz on the right

The minyans all start at various times, most around 8:00, with Chabad being the latest at 10:00. I almost always go to Chabad and see people going to and fro from shul thorughout the old section of town where we live between 9:30 and 10:00 in the morning. After shul there is usually a large continget that gathers throughout the day at the bird's nest eerie overlooking the machtesh just up Nachal Gerofit. There eveyone seems gaily dressed in white, with the boys wearing white shirts and khaki pants. The women's head coverings are alll white, some spangled with sparklers of various kinds, others with colors. I never thought I would see white as a "gay" color, but it seems to be when everyone wears it for Shabbat. Although Chasidim traditionally wear black, non-chasidic religious Israelis all seem to wear white on Shabbat and holidays.

There is a languid and lazy atmosphere around town in the afternoon. Lots of people walking to and fro, and occasionally the hippies jamming in an apartment near us. The dogs run around and bark at people, while children play in the park. Later, I sleep and wake for minyan, skipping Shalos Seudos.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Quote of the Day - Welcoming the Sabbath Queen

Whoever has not welcomed the Sabbath Queen from the Machtesh, has never welcomed the Queen.  -Anonymous

Kabbalat Shabbos

Whoever has not welcomed the Sabbath Queen from the Machtesh, has never welcomed the Queen.  -Anonymous

It is late. It is always late. I am late for shul. I decide I will go to the Machtesh and begin my davening there in solitude while I wait for Kabbalat Shabbat to begin.

As I walk uphill I hasten my pace toward the Machtesh. I hear the sounds of a Schubert Adagio, soft cries over plucked heart strings, and feel the tug of a passion from long ago.

From within the corner shul I hear the murmured sounds of quiet prayer. A young IDF soldier walks out, rifle slung over shoulder, siddur in hand. Her long olive skirt tells me she is observant. She crosses my path and walks toward her comrades, some distance away at the visitor center. A large crowd of IDF soldiers has gathered there for Kabbalat Shabbos. I hear their song begin, swelling from afar. Other soldiers sit in small groups with friends, quietly talking, watching along the crater's rim, their rifles across folded legs.

My foot steps onto the Eerie. The crater is resplendent with light, a supernal glow that comes from everywhere and nowhere, from within the very rocks themselves.

The world is filled with the glory of G-d;
It flames out, like shinning from shook foil.

It is late. I begin, Ashrei yoshvei vetecha od y'hal'lucha, selah.
Happy are those that dwell in Your house; they keep on praising.”

The sun goes to its place.

The shade of night is drawn. The sixth day is rolled up into a blue-grey shadow.

Now is the night one blue dew,
my father has drained,
he has coiled the hose,
low in the length of lawns,
a frailing of fire who breathes...

I join a group of yeshiva boys and their teachers on the crater's rim behind me. They sing and sway; later they dance; friends embrace, their ritual fringes, tinged with t'chelet, blowing in the wind. They welcome the Sabbath Queen:

O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.
For the LORD [is] a great God, and a great King above all gods.
In his hand [are] the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills [is] his also.
The sea [is] his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry [land].
O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker.

It has grown dark. The supernal light disappears...The radiant Shabbat Queen comes in...

As Shabbat arrives, she merges into Oneness, and is separated from the “other side”, and all strict judgments are severed from her. And she remains in unity with the holy light, and crowns herself with many crowns for the holy King...Her countenance is irradiated with a supernal light, and she crowns herself here below with the holy people, all of whom are crowned with new souls. Then the commencement of prayer is to bless her with with joy and radiant countenance. 

(Click for full size image)

Erev Shabbat in Mitzpe Ramon

(Friday afternoon, before the Sabbath)

... It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the tress, of birds' hung havens, hangars. People go by; things go by. A horse, drawing a buggy, breaking his hollow iron music on the asphalt: a loud auto: a quiet auto: people in pairs, not in a hurry, scuffling, switching their weight of aestival body, talking casually...

Long before Shabbat begins, Mitzpe Ramon starts quieting down. The streets begin to empty of cars, and people sit quietly talking and drinking at the 'neto.  Most people are off work, and school is only a half day. The quiet settles over everything, like a blanket snuffing out the fires of the week. There is a rush of people doing last minute Shabbat shopping at the Shabbat market and the Supersol. By mid-afternoon even that has ceased. Each greets the other with "Shabbat Shalom".

The quiet is palpable.

              Quiet settles over Mitzpe Ramon in preparation for Shabbat

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mitzpe Ramon Haircut

Here's how we get our hair cut in Mitzpe Ramon.

Hippie and Black Hebrew hair cutter of Mitzpe Ramon

He ended up with salt-and-pepper corn rows front to back across his whole head.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chabad of Mitzpe Ramon

Where there's life there's Bud;
Where there's Coke there's Chabud.
I've had a number of posts about Chabad events in Mitzpe Ramon, so this seems like a good time to say something about Chabad of Mitzpe Ramon. The Chabad shaliach in Mitzpe Ramon is Rabbi Zvi Haim Slonim. He is a large man, with an even bigger voice. He is fluent in many languages - Hebrew, Yiddish, English, and Russian. His shul congregation is drawn largely from the Russian Jews of Mitzpe Ramon.

 Rabbi Zvi Haim Slonim, Chabad shaliach in Mitzpe Ramon

In addition to the Chabad shul, there is a new Chabad House, The Center for the Study of Judaism in the Desert. The Chabad House has sleeping and eating capacity for a large number of people, around 60. Almost every Shabbat and Holiday, Rabbi Slonim has a large group of Jewish students from various schools in Israel staying over. Individuals and tourist groups also use the Chabad House as a hostel when they are in town, with previous arrangements. One day, not long ago, there was a group of about 40 Jews from Florida who were on tour and stayed over night at the Chabad House.

Both the Chabad Shul and Chabad House are easy to find, and are quite close to each other. The shul only has services on Shabbat, just after candle lighting on Friday, 10:00AM on Shabbat morning, and about the same time as candle lighting for Mincha on Saturday. There is usually no Shalos Seudot in shul on Saturday evening.

Chabad Shul and Chabad House as marked on the map

The shul is small and located in two rooms of a converted apartment building on the ground floor. The men's section is an "L" shaped room, with the women's section in the room behind, separated by a doorway covered with a blanket. Ok, so it's set up mainly for men. Very few women attend the service on Shabbat.

Chabad Shul in Mitzpe Ramon. The entrance is immediately to the left of the "Beit Chabad" sign (As always, click for a full-size image)

The Chabad House is newly converted from an old hotel, and the outside is still incomplete. When finished, it's supposed to look like a reproduction of the famed "770" in Crown Heights. It has room for about 60 guests.
Mark and Uncle Rafi Finkel make the sign for "770" outside the new Chabad House in Mitzpe Ramon.

For more information you should contact Rabbi Slonim himself.
Mobile from US: 011-972-54-4595770
Home from US: 011-972-8-6588415
Fax from US: 011-972-8-6595770


My experience is that Rabbi Slonim is not very good at responding to email, at least not in English, so call if you want to contact him.

Rabbi Slonim dances with IDF soldiers in Mitzpe Ramon this Purim

Hottest Day of the Year so Far

Today was the hottest day of the year, so far. The temperature at 2:00PM was 92 F, with light winds out of the west. The heat was tempered by low humidity at 25%, making for comfort in the shade. The chamsin of earlier this week has died out, and the blowing dust has ceased. However, skies were still covered with a high haze. Winds were mild at 2.2 mph out of the west.

I guess you could say, in retrospect, that spring began here shortly after Tu b'Shevat. Until this week, temperatures had been very mild, in the 60s and low 70s during the day. The early spring flowering trees have begun loosing their blossoms as leaves replace flowers.


In Evening Air with Carolyn Enger

It was a fine evening when we left the Ramon Inn. The chamsin of the previous day had abated somewhat, the air was cool and the humidity low, and some stars were visible through what was left of the day's dust storm.

We came home and wound down with our friend Carolyn Enger's new CD, In Evening Air. It is a collection of piano miniatures by Scriabin, Beethoven, and other contemporary composers like Copland, Hanson, and Rorem. It infuses a quiet, contemplative and meditative mood, a musical incense in the air. The inclusion of the modern composers with the classics gives it an edgy brilliance.

I see, in evening air, how slowly dark comes down on what we do.  - Theodore Roethke
 It was a perfect end to a beautiful evening. Thank you, Carolyn.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Jackson - The Russian Pianist of Mitzpe Ramon

Feeling a bit low, we decided to have a nice meal at the Ramon Inn tonight. Located at the top of the hill near the center of town, the Ramon Inn (Pundak Ramon, in Hebrew) is the nicest hotel with the best restaurant in town. We ate in the casual dinning room near the lobby where excellent and affordable light meals are served.

Every Tuesday and Saturday night, Jackson, the Russian Pianist of Mitzpe Ramon, plays popular, dance, and jazz music in the room. Sometimes he is joined by Anatoly, the Russian Clarinetist of Mitzpe Ramon. Jackson has a broad repertory, a light touch, and does very nice improvisations on the original songs. He was so good tonight that we could hardly bring ourselves to leave, dancing out the door together after a few turns of the lobby floor.

I relax while Jackson tickles the ivories at the Ramon Inn, every Tuesday and Saturday night

Quote of the Day - Schubert's Serenade

Schubert had a horse named Sara,
He rode her to a big parade,
And all the time the band was playing,
Schubert's Sara neighed.

- Courtesy of Jeff Spurgeon, WQXR New York


Baboo and Chewbaca's Trail Adventures

I will recount some of the amazing hiking stories Baboo and Chewbaca shared with us. We spent time at the CafeNeto having drinks and lunch and invited them to dinner with us on their second night in Mitzpe Ramon. In the course of our visit they related this story.

About half-way between Eilat, where the Israel National Trail begins, and Mitzpe Ramon, there is the steep and narrow Barak Canyon. In the course of traversing the cayon there are deep pits that must be crossed. Because the canyon is so steep and narrow at these points there is no way around these pits. One must climb down into them, cross, and ascend the other side. Because the walls of these pits are sheer, the trail developers have placed steel ladders along the pit walls to aid in ascending and descending.

Barak Canyon

Because of the torrential desert rain storms this year, these pits are now filled with water, too deep to wade. So, Baboo and Chewbaca had to devise a way across. They decided to swim across and rig a line to pull their packs after them. This they did, but Baboo said it was tremendously difficult to climb out of the pits wringing wet. They shed their clothes to make it easier to cross the other water-filled pits, in the course of which they encountered an orthodox Jewish couple also trying to forge the pits. The couple was flummoxed at the sight of the naked hikers, but didn't refuse their help, since without it they would have been stranded.

One hiker they encountered  in the canyon, knowing the pits were filled with water, came prepared with a small inflatable raft to float his pack across!

"X" marks the approximate location of Barak Canyon

Another great adventure occurred when Baboo and Chewey were hiking toward the end of the day in a complete barren wilderness. Chewey, who had the lead, stopped suddenly and said to Baboo, "I see a mirage."   Ahead was a wet bar set out in the middle of the desert, completely stocked with ice, glasses, bottles of wine and other beverages. Surrounding it were fully set tables with white linens and silverware. However, it was no mirage. As it happened, a large group of Canadian tourists had paid to have this fancy catered meal and bar in the middle of the desert wilderness. Baboo and Chewey were a bit miffed that they weren't at least offered drinks.

Israel National Trail Guide Book

Baboo and Chewbaca on the Israel National Trail

We met two extraordinary individuals at the 'neto this week: Baboo and Chewbaca (their trail names) who were hiking the Israel National Trail. Baboo, who was given the Swahili name Baboo Simba (Grandfather Lion) by his native porters while on safari in Kenya, has been hiking the world for the past five years. He began when his wife died tragically of cancer, and he has since hiked throughout the world. In his past life he lived on Guam, Hawaii, and in Los Angeles, where he was a commercial kitchen designer. Little vestige of his past life remains when you talk to him. He is through and through a hiker of the world.

Baboo Simba, hiker of the world, aka Jerry Hill

When not hiking the world, Baboo spends much of his time hiking the Appalachian Trail where he met Chewbaca. Chewbaca got his trail name because, well, he looks like Chewbaca: strong, tough, direct and hirsute, with Jewish dreadlocks covering his top. Chewbaca made Aliyah to Israel from the US, served in the IDF, and then began his own hiking journey, as many Israelis do, through India, Tibet, Southeast Asia and the United States, where he met Baboo on the Appalachian Trail. They agreed to meet up in Israel to hike the Israel National Trail, a relatively little known trail that snakes 600 miles through the length of the country from Eilat in the south to Kiryat Shimona in the north.

Chewbaca, aka Danny ben Dovid

The desert part of the trail is brutal, requiring 6-9 liters of water to be carried per day, together with all the rest of one's camping gear. I could barely lift Chewbaca's pack, never mind haul it on my back the 10-15 kilometers they travel per day.

The trail passes through Mitzpe Ramon, where they took a couple of rest days, which is how, through Divine Providence, we came to meet and become good friends. While they were here Chewbaca's girlfirend and soon to be fiance (I think) came down to meet them from Tel Aviv. She is not a hiker so only has her regular name, Elisheva. She, too, made Aliyah relatively recently. I don't remember how she and Chewey met.

Baboo, Elisheva, and Chewbaca outside the CafeNeto in Mitzpe Ramon

Today Baboo and Chewbaca resumed their hike. It was not the best of conditions. A Chamsin was blowing, a hot southerly wind from the desert, that was strong and kicked up alot of dust. It was humid and the sky was an overcast, ugly brown. It will be a quartering wind as the trail heads northeast out of Mitzpe Ramon.

 Path of the Israel National Trail

I have agreed to  be their "trail angel", bringing them water and supplies at predetermined points along the trail that are car accessible to lighten their load. Baboo calls such fortuitous events "hiking magic". Wonderful and amazing things that befall hikers along the way. It was certainly magic for us to meet them, and I am sure this is the start of a beautiful relationship.

Israel National Trail Guide Book

Today's Weather - 3/09/2010 - A Chamsin

A Chamsin is ablowin' in Mitzpe Ramon. A Chamsin is a hot wind from the south, straight up the Negev desert. The sky is brown with dust, there is an oppressive and humid overcast, and dust get's in your eyes. A good day to be inside, but there are alot of bikers and hikers about who don't let the weather keep them down.

 A Chamsin blows a dust storm into Mitzpe Ramon

Quote of the Day - Ezekiel

For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you from all countries, and will bring you into your own Land...You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and you shall be My people, and I will be your G-d. -- Ezekiel 36:24,28

Celebrating International Women's Day in MItzpe Ramon

Today (March 8) when Pam went to the Supersol market there was an unusually large trade in flowers and boquets, usually only seen on Fridays before Shabbat. When she inquired as to what was going on every one assured her it was a very big holiday celebrated everywhere in the world, including America: International Women's Day. Well pillory me with a brassiere, but neither I nor Pam had ever heard of this holiday. I had to conclude that it must have been especially big in the Soviet Union, since there are many Russians living in Mitzpe Ramon. (Would my Russian readers please clarify?)

In any case, all of the men were running around Mitzpe Ramon with bouquets. One of my favorite Mitzpe Ramon characters is Shlomo, the Wild Russian. Shlomo has an outfit for every occassion. Some of my favorites are his Good Cowboy Outfit, white western cowboy suit and hat; Bad Cowboy Outfit, the same but all in black; Russian Mafia Outfit, pretty much self-described; and his Midnight in Moscow Russian Outfit, full fur Russian hat and leather overcoat. In the photo below he is dressed ala Carribe, in preparation for the fist chamsin of the season.

 Shlomo, the Wild Russian of Mitzpe Ramon, celebrating International Women's Day (as always, click for the full-size image)

Shlomo speaks many languages, unfortunately, none we share so communication can be difficult. As soon as I took this picture in front of the 'neto, Shlomo was off in a flash.

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