Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tragedy on the Machtesh

It has been a while since we have written about life in Mitzpe Ramon. We were in the US for about a month, and then alot of our time has gone into setting up our astronomy night time tours and posting on So, it is with sadness that we return to write about tragedy on the Machtesh and in the Negev area. This is especially so during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur.

On Monday, a man of unknown identity in his late 30s or early 40s jumped to his death from the Bird's Nest Overlook at the end of our street. This is a dramatic parapet that juts out from the edge of the Machtesh with views for miles out and around the crater. The drop looks to be about 500 feet to the bottom. Every year such suicide tragedies and other deaths occur here. Most recently a teen-age girl and her friend from Tel Aviv had been drinking and were dancing at the edge of the Machtesh. She fell to her death. Or so the story goes, which would make a great line for a mystery. Ush, such goyishe kups!

(These photos by Albert Bitton and Lital Solomon of Mitzpe Ramon are used with permission.)

Seen here is Yoash Limon, of the Green Backpackers, being lowered to the jumper in Mitzpe Ramon. Above is the Bird's Nest Parapet, overlooking Machtesh Ramon, from which he jumped to his death.

Yoash secures the body to a gurney.

Lifting the gurney.

Many emergency personnel and onlookers wait above.

Then yesterday, two other deaths were reported in the Judean Desert near the Dead Sea. An 18 year old American boy touring the area fell to his death from a height. Later that day in the same area, a 50 year old Russian man had been leaning against a boulder which shifted when he released his hold and rolled over him, crushing him to death.

Such things are not supposed to happen and remind us of the most powerful part of the Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur service after the Nesaneh Tokef, "Who shall live and who shall die...who by fire...who by drowning...who by stoning... We don't stone people anymore, well not outside of Islamic countries anyway, but in biblical times stoning was carried out by pushing the condemned off a high place. And the scape goat, the Goat for Azazel that was to die for the sins of the community on Yom Kippur, was pushed to its death from a great height after the crimson string between its horns was cut.

We spent Rosh Hashannah at the new Aish Kodesh (Holy Fire) shul in Ramat Bet Shemesh. It is a large three story stone building made of marble and Jerusalem stone. I grew up in a shul with a chazan and men's choir of unparalleled power. So, it's unusual for me to hear anything cantorial that moves me during the High Holiday davening. But in the shul, during the "Mi Yichyeh of The Nesaneh Tokef" (Who shall live and who die...) the chazan sang a line over the chorus of the kahal (community) that sounded like the drowning voice of the tempest-tossed over the storm of Fate, a chilling effect I had never heard before and will never forget.

May the Tempest Tossed find rest, and we should hear only good news from now on. Baruch Dayan Emet.

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