Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fast of the 17th of Tammuz and One of the Hottest Days of the Year

There was a heat wave throughout Israel for this fast day, the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz. In Mitzpe Ramon at 2:30PM the temperature was 96F. In Be'er Sheva, which we also visited today, the temperature was 102F at 3:45PM, with an oppressively hot desert wind just making it feel worse. Eilat had a high of 109F today!

By sunset in Mitzpe Ramon the temperature had been brought down to 81F at the Har Gamal Lookout, with humidity of 38% and a strong westerly wind at the crater's rim of 30mph. At least the wind was cool, unlike the hot blast we experienced in Be'er Sheva.

Given the heat, and the fact also that it was a fast day, there were very few people out and about in Be'er Sheva, and traffic in the city was at a minimum. It was a good day to be inside with air conditioning, contemplating the history of the Jewish people, or just waiting out the Fast Day.

We spent it getting a chest x-ray for Pam which is a routine study required before her knee surgery. We accomplished our mission in record time, perhaps because everyone was reluctant to go out. The only other time I have seen Be'er Sheva with fewer people and less traffic was on a Friday afternoon when the streets were almost completely empty. You might want to bear this in mind, if you're looking for a time to get things done in a hurry in Be'er Sheva.

The heat gets the better of an ice cream cone in Be'er Sheva today.


Aunt Randi Visits Mitzpe Ramon

Except for one small interval at a wedding in Palo Alto, we hadn't seen Aunt Randi since we left Palo Alto for Englewood in 2000. But due to the wonders of Facebook it felt like we had hardly been apart at all. And Aunt Randi looked exactly the same as she had 10 years ago, although she denies it. She was here for the Zionist Congress in June, representing the Reconstructionist Movement, and made a special trip way down here to Mitzpe Ramon to visit. She was also visiting Israel with her niece, Cassie, and teenage great nieces, Esty and Ricky on their first trip to Israel.

Aunt Randi with Baby Shimshon and Pam. (Don't forget to click on each photo for a full-size image.)

Randi took us to dinner at the Ramon Inn where she met our two grandchildren for the first time, a big event since Chavie had grown up with "Aunt Randi" from her early years in Palo Alto.

Chavie (age 6) and Aunt Randi build a Succah. Uncle Marty is somewhere out of sight.

Randi and I made a stop at the CafeNeto, my favorite watering hole in Mitzpe Ramon, where I showed her how to check-in on Foursquare. (I'm the Mayor of CafeNeto Mitzpe Ramon.)

At the Cafeneto.

After catching up on ten years of missed conversation I decided to take her on my own tour of Mitzpe Ramon. We spent some more time talking and looking out over the Har Gamal overlook as the sun set and Shabbat approached, and then I took her to the other side of the crater rim north of town, where we viewed the site of the earlier great boulder explosion that took down a 400 ton monolith that threatened to crash down on Route 40 below.

At the Har Gamal Lookout.

This is where the 400 ton boulder was detonated off the face of Machtesh Ramon.

We managed to find a large metal can filled with rocks near the rim where we could hold on while we edged close to the very edge of the crater to see the debris field of the boulder blast below.

Debris field from the big boulder explosion above Machtesh Ramon. Route 40, threatened by the overhanging boulder, snakes below.

I didn't get a chance to photograph Ricky and Esty, Randi's two beautiful great-nieces, so everyone will just have to come back again next year.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Picking Alpaca Fleece

Rebecca spent the day picking alpaca fleece. This is the process by which tangles, matts and debris are removed from the alpaca wool prior to further processing. It is a slow, tedious and never-ending hand process, but it must be done. It is also done to sheep's wool before it is further processed. Who knew how much work goes into just making the yarn that is used in our clothing!

This is not Rebecca, but it is all I could find on picking alpaca wool.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Rebecca O'Sunnybrook Farm Meets the Alpaca Farm

Our teen-age friend from Englewood, Rebecca, has come to Mitzpe Ramon to work at the famous Alpaca Farm for the summer. Rebecca is not really from Sunny Brook Farm, but she is a tall, lanky, fresh-faced young woman who could well have come from Sunny Brook Farm. She loves animals, especially horses. Mitzpe Ramon, a desert far from the high mountain passes of the Andes, does indeed, unlikely as it may seem, have a large Alpaca Farm which has been here for about 25 years. In addition to alpacas they keep llamas, donkeys, horses, camels, and a large variety of dogs. The alpacas and llamas, over 400 in all, are farmed for their hair which is sheared and used like lamb's wool in making textiles. Nothing is killed, milked, or separated from its calves at the Alpaca Farm. All is peace and bucolic desert tranquility. There is also an excellent B&B on the farm for those who prefer a more rustic desert stay when in the area.

A small herd of alpacas at the Alpaca Farm in Mitzpe Ramon (click for full-size image.)

In addition to alpaca and llama husbandry, the farm entertains tourists who come to see the exotic animals and also ride the horses. The llamas are sometimes saddled up for children to ride as well. Some of the alpacas and llamas wander loose on the farm, and I remember the first time I came, seeing a pair rolling in the desert dust to clean themselves, looking large enough to be bears wrestling. Indeed, a full-grown llama can weigh up to 450 pounds.

Rebecca with a small, young, recently sheared alpaca

Rebecca with her favorite - the horses

Rebecca's main job for the summer is to help train the new herd of 16 llamas the farm acquired from Chile this spring. The young llamas have to be socialized and doing this requires catching one first (if you can, adds Rebecca), hooking a lead to its halter and then walking it around. I don't know if more is required, but I am sure I'll find out as the summer progresses.

A llama, up close and personal

A wide assortment of dogs are on hand, most lazing around in the summer sun. But when the sun sets the action begins for the big farm dogs who are tough enough to protect the animals from desert wolves and foxes (not to mention Bedouin) that prowl the farm at night. (Our cousin-in-laws cattle farm in Tekuma has had both dogs and cattle killed by Bedouin at night.)

A desert farm dog sleeps by day, dreaming of the chase by night

When it gets too hot, the dogs find a nice puddle of water and lie in it. 

A freshly sheared alpaca

An odd family resemblance between the desert camel and the high-mountain llama.

After doing llama training on her first day, Rebecca set to work cleaning the animals' sick shed on her second day. Among the residents was a one-eyed llama with maggots in its eye socket (I don't know if this is therapeutic or what!). I think this is the job they give you to find out of you really like working on a farm. The room, actually a stable for sick animals, hadn't been cleaned or organized for a long time, and in addition to organizing and cleaning all of the paraphernalia, Rebecca had to sweep out the stalls. 

In any case, after a long day at the farm one can always relax and walk along the rim of Machtesh Ramon. Needless to say, Rebecca went to sleep early tonight.

No, Mom, it's not nearly as dangerous as it looks!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Shen Ramon - Ramon's Tooth and Ramon's Molars

Shen Ramon (Ramon's Tooth) is a large, unusual rock formation in the southern wall of Machtesh Ramon. Almost all of the crater's walls are formed from sandstone, the result of the area being covered by the Tethys Sea some 200 million years ago. Shen Ramon is an intrusion rock formed of basalt, magma that cooled under ground and was then thrust up, like an erupting tooth, through the action of tectonic forces that caused the sea to retreat. The basalt is black, in stark contrast to the buff color of the sandstone walls.

Shen Ramon, dark rock to the left of center. (Click for full size image.)

Shen Ramon is best seen from the Mitzpe Ramon Visitor Center or the bird's nest overlook just south of there. But in truth it is well seen anywhere along the northern rim of the crater. Those places are just the easiest to get to.

Close-up of Shen Ramon from the Bird's Nest overlook.

I call the area right of Shen Ramon "Ramon's Dentition", because to me it looks like molars next to the canine of Shen Ramon, but no one else knows it by that name.

"Ramon's Dentition", to the right of Shen Ramon.

Close-up of "Ramon's Molars".

Shen Ramon and the adjacent cliffs can be climbed with access from Route 40 in the Machtesh itself. Look for signs to direct you as you head south out of Mitzpe Ramon across the crater.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Colt, Mare and Camels

On the way to Be'er-Sheva there is now a charming sight of a colt, mare and camels lazing about a field. The colt was just born a few weeks ago. When first we saw it, it was kicking up its heels and madly dancing across the field, as colts do, with its mother not far behind. Sometimes we saw the colt laying down in the middle of the day with the mother standing astride or sometimes just nearby.

The camels look a bit bedraggled but sit motionless in the field, except for their heads which turn to meet you where ever you may go. It is good to be so close to nature here in the desert.

Colt, mare and camels in a Bedouin field near Be'er-Sheva. (Click for full size image.)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"No Entrance for Dogs and Jews" - A Guest Post by Lior Zagury

“No entrance for dogs and Jews”  
June 3rd, 2010

My name is Lior Zagury and I’m a very proud Israeli Jew.

Yes, it is important for me to present myself in this way, especially today when there is a feeling that there is a festival for anti-Semites.

I just came back yesterday from Poland after 8 days of having the privilege of guiding the Inter Disciplinary university students in the death camps.  These students, studying in Israel were Jews, Christians and Muslims. 5 huge armed commando Polish soldiers with rifles and pistols needed to secure our check in to EL-AL flight to Israel from the Warsaw airport.

I know that you got at least 100 e-mails about the flotilla to Gaza and I will not repeat what was said there. I want to speak about something much bigger that is happening now.

The header of my letter wasn’t taken from the streets of Berlin in 1933 when the Nazi’s came to power, not from the neighborhoods of Warsaw in 1941 when the Jews lived in the Ghetto, and not even from the shops of Kielce after the second world war in 1946, just before the pogrom that made Jews understand that there isn’t a safe place for them and they need to leave Europe.

The header was taken from signs that were hanged at the entrance to big markets and offices in Turkey in the past few days, in June of 2010 and similar signs that were hung in Jordan.  The signs say: “not receive the dogs & Israelis” as you can see in the photo that is attached.

A sign in Jordan, a country with whom Israel has a "peace" accord: "Sorry We Do Not Receive Dogs and Israelis."

What we see around us is not about the flotilla and Gaza. It is a very sophisticated plan to demolish the legitimacy of the existence of the Jewish state of Israel.

In his first speech at the German Reichstag at 1/30/ 1933 Hitler said the cause of all the world problems is world Jewry. Most of the people didn’t take him seriously and felt very safe in their countries, trusting their governments.  12 years later we lost 6 million Jews in the Holocaust in the worst way that human kind has ever known.

These days, 65 years after, Achmadinijad from Iran and many others say exactly the same. The history repeats itself. Most of the people do not take him seriously and feel very safe in their countries, trusting their governments.....

This is a wake up call.

If you will ignore that and convince yourselves that this is not the main stream, this is just a passing storm and that it will never happen to us – sooner or later, you might find those restrictions in your backyard, in your favorite restaurant, in your great Bar and in your amazing university as it was 75 years ago. A few months ago, an Arab restaurant in Haifa didn’t allow Israeli soldiers to come in and eat.

We need your support now more then ever. We need to raise our heads, speak in a very clear and loud voice and especially be one, united. I have a complete and strong confidence in our nation.

Israel has the most moral army in the world, it is the only democracy in the world that in each and every given moment there are hundreds of thousands of missiles and rockets ready to be launched to the central of its cities from enemies that want to erase us, and the only place in the world that a Jew can just be a Jew and feel completely safe about it.

We promised NEVER AGAIN. Don’t wait to say we didn’t know.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

When Boxing Becomes a Jewish Sport - Yuri Foreman vs. Miguel Cotto

At one time, boxing was a Jewish sport. From 1910-1940 there were 26 Jewish world champions, and by 1928 Jews were the dominant ethnic group in the sport. One hardly recognizes these facts from the makeup of today's boxing cards. But a new generation of Jew, Orthodox and in rabbinical school, no less, has emerged to remind the world of the great Jewish pugilists of the past.

Last Saturday night in Yankee Stadium, Yuri Foreman, the Jewish rabbinical student champion, fought challenger Miguel Cotto for the WBA super welterweight championship title. In the middle of round 7, Foreman slipped and injured an already weakened knee. In pain and hobbled he continued on, looking for no excuse to quit. Again he slipped and wrenched his knee one more time. Instead of calling it quits he went toe to toe with the challenger until a body blow in the 9th round knocked him to the mat and the referee called a TKO. In the midst of the mayhem an unknown party "threw in the towel", bringing the fight to a mistaken halt until the referee restarted it again.

Do not be misled by the sports writers who proclaimed this a rout and said that Foreman was "clobbered". Foreman put up one of the greatest displays of sheer guts boxing the ring has ever seen.

Watch it here, starting in the 6th round when things start to get dicey for Foreman.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Route 12 to Eilat - The Black and White Cranes

Most people going to Eilat take either Route 40 to Route 90, which runs down the Jordan River and Arava Valleys, or Route 90 all the way. Route 12, which branches off Route 40 about 80 kilometers from Eilat, is almost completely ignored. Route 12 runs down the Israeli/Egyptian border and covers some of the most beautiful mountains and flowered desert plains in Israel. In addition, the highway is the equal of Route 40 in quality and better in speed, since there is so little traffic on it.

Route 12 to Eilat.

Many of the mountains are huge, basalt monoliths, cooled magma from underground that was thrust up through fissures created by the motion of the African, Arabian and Indian tectonic plates which meet under the Red Sea.

A panoramic view of Mt. Shlomo as seen from Route 12. (Click for full-size images.)

Driving Route 12 on our way home from Eilat we happened upon a flock of Black and White Cranes. These large, beautiful birds can be seen near road sides in the spring when they migrate north from Africa to their breeding grounds in Europe. I had seen a flock before on Route 40 but wasn't able to stop. This time I did and got some wonderful photos of these birds.

A panoramic view of Black and White Cranes along Route 12.

The desert plains are beautiful in the early spring (April in this case), festooned with wild flowers as far as the eye can see. Going down to Eilat we crossed one valley that was filled with small yellow wild flowers all the way to the horizon. These were some of the wild flowers the Black and White Cranes were grazing among.

Desert wild flowers.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

People of Mitzpe Ramon - Isaac o' Bath, the Shepherd of Mitzpe Ramon

Isaac comes from Bath, England. He has a full mane of magnificent red hair that looks like it has just come undone from dreadlocks. His parents made aliyah when he was little, but returned to England when he was nine. He came back to Israel as a teen-ager. Isaac has recently been working as a shepherd near Meitar, northeast of Beer-sheva. There are many sheep flocks in the Negev, most of them owned and tended by the ubiquitous Bedouin, so it is interesting to find a Jew who is involved in sheep husbandry.

Isaac tends his sheep with a sawed-off broom handle, nothing fancier than that. When he first started he used to yell and scream at the sheep to make them do his bidding, chasing them hither and yon. He was soon hoarse and exhausted. Bedouin get their sheep's attention by throwing rocks at them, not much caring if they hit and injure them with the rock. A savvier shepherd taught Isaac the right way to tend his flock. A dog runs back and forth in a circle around the sheep, herding them into a circle and making them realize who is boss. The sheep then follow the dominant animal. Not having a sheep dog, Isaac had to perform this service himself, making him the dominant creature.

Isaac tends the flock, sometimes numbering over 200, himself. The sheep and their shepherd want the same thing: for the sheep to safely graze. Why can't sheep be kept in a pen and be fed hay like cows? Well, for one thing range or desert grass is free, and sheep meat tastes better from range-fed animals. This has been an exceptionally wet year, so the grass is more plentiful this year than in the past 10. The grass turns brown in the desert sun, but the sheep prefer it this way, since green grass gives them indigestion.

You may have heard (or not) that a flock of sheep should never be allowed to break into multiple groups if there is only one shepherd for the flock. It turns out that this is utter nonsense. There is nothing the sheep want more than to recombine, even if each has entered a different valley. All the shepherd has to do is anticipate where they will come out, give a whistle and they all come together again in one happy group.

At the end of the season the male sheep are slaughtered for meat, while the females are sheared and kept for breeding. Yet another instance of the shorter life span of the male in an animal species (sigh).

Isaac has given up shepherding for the time being, since being out with the flock has aggravated some severe allergies that he has. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.

Isaac o' Bath, The Shepherd of Mitzpe Ramon.

Ashdod and the Terror Flotilla

We spent last weekend in Ashdod where the Terror Flotilla and the Rachel Corrie have put in. Ashdod is a large, thriving beach metropolis, now the fourth largest city in Israel. It is hot and humid here in the summer, and we kept telling our friends that they had to come to the high desert in Mitzpe Ramon if they really wanted comfortable summer weather.

There seems to be a continuous building boom in Ashdod, as in many Israeli cities, even tho Ashdod is in range of terrorist missiles from the Gaza Strip. One struck and destroyed a home near our friends' apartment during Operation Cast Lead in January 2009. The sunsets over the Mediterranean Sea are beautiful in Ashdod and the beach inviting. There is even a ruined Byzantine Fortress on the beach which is fun to explore.

Mediterranean sunset at Ashdod (Click for full size image).

Exotic African trees grow in Ashdod

Ashdod and the area south of it, including the Gaza Strip, were home to the Philistines in Biblical times (which is why the Romans denigradingly called Judea "Philistia"), and with the Hamas presence in Gaza today, the area continues its tradition as a sanctuary for the enemies of the Jews. The story of Samson and the Philistines is commemorated near the beach with this statue.

Samson destroys the Philistine temple. (Note Delilah's shears.)

The Port of Asdod is a busy commercial shipping center. You can always see large container vessels in the waters off the beach and docked at the port's piers.

Ashdod port, to the right in the distance.

Panoramic view of Ashdod Port from Jonah's Hill. The military section of the port is to the left surrounded by the cement break wall. (Click for full-size image.) 

Much of the news coverage about the Terror Flotilla originated from Givat Yonah or Jonah's Hill, as it overlooks the port, and the port itself was off-limits to reporters while the Flotilla was docked.

A German (or Dutch?) reporter broadcasting last Saturday night from Jonah's Hill, the day the Rachel Corrie was brought to Ashdod Port.

Jonah's Hill is the site of a lighthouse and modern day sea radar to help ships navigate the Port area. The structure also looks like a Ralston Purina factory with its red checked paint.

Ashdod lighthouse and sea radar on Jonah's Hill.

In the daylight you can see the anti-Hamas and anti-Turkish graffiti written nearby.

Tradition holds that this hill, Givat Yonah or Jonah's Hill, is the burial place of Jonah the Prophet. It was also a lookout for the British during the mandate to prevent "illegal" Jewish immigrants from entering Palestine. On a clear day you can see Gaza to the south and Jerusalem to the east. How fitting, then, that it now overlooks the Port City of Ashdod which keeps out weapons for  Gaza terrorists.

(As always, click for full-size image.)

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Truth About the Terror Flotilla Finally Comes Out

This video was captured by the IDF from the security cameras of the lead Turkish "Hate Boat", the Mavi Marmara, before it sailed for the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip. It shows what the "humanitarian" mission was all about better than the millions of words that have already been spilled over the incident.

The video can also be found here:

Jamming at the Club Ramon Hotel

Feeling out of sorts and with Pam under the weather yesterday and today, I decided to have a night out by myself in Mitzpe Ramon and went to enjoy a quiet dinner at the Club Ramon Hotel, which is just across the way from out apartment. Moshe the proprietor is always glad to see us, and he was there this evening with friends.

I enjoyed one of the hotel's very fine home cooked meals, including chicken drum sticks and tongue. I know tongue is not on everyone's favorite list of foods, but they make it sweet and tender there, so I rate it excellent. The vegetables had too much cousbarah (cilantro) for my taste (any at all is too much for me) but I found some lovely fried eggplant to fill the vegetable bill instead. At 70 shekels for all you can eat the price is a bargain.

After dinner and over tea, as I was reading more of the slanders against Israel about the Terrorist Flotilla on my iPhone, I heard a jam session start-up in the bar. Moshe urged me to join, so I did; where I found, much to my surprise, an excellent two-man Mitzpe Ramon combo swinging out. It was David Rich doing vocals and Gershom Ben Israel on drums keeping rhythm, together with a synthesizer that made it sound like Louis Armstrong and his whole band was jamming. As I found out later, they play there ofetn and have a large band called Jerusalem Rising that is going to play at the Mitzpe Ramon Jazz Club, across from the hardware store in the industrial section, next Tuesday night at 7:00. I hope to be there then to share more of their wonderful music with you.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Shizafon Junction - An Oasis in the Desert

On the way to Eilat from Mitzpe Ramon, we descend from the high desert toward the Arava Valley. Route 40, the only road south from Mitzpe Ramon, intersects Route 12 at the Shizafon Junction, about 80 kilometers from Eilat. Most people continue down Route 40 to Route 90 which continues down the Arava Valley directly to Eilat. But Route 12 is another option, much more scenic, and much less travelled. You can just about drive Route 12 with your eyes closed there is so little traffic on it. Yet it is the most scenic route to Eilat, passing through the mountains that define the Israeli side of the Arava Valley, with many large mountain vistas to engage the traveller. There are also some stunning sites of natural wonder, like the Red Canyon, which we shall visit in another post.

Shizafon Junction (A), where Route 40 meets Route 12

In any case, at the junction of 40 and 12, the Shizafon Junction, is a little Inn that is an oasis in the Negev desert. There are fountains and streams of water with verdant green plantings and flowers everywhere. You can enjoy a meal or drink in the shade of the garden or indoors at the restaurant. It also makes for a good rest stop for the kids with excellent bathroom facilities. Continue on to your destination refreshed from there.

Tables and garden at the Shizafon Junction (Click for full size image.)

Green pond with algae and who knows what else?

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