(In words of Tahn)
Catching a bus to Ein Gedi from a Jerusalem bus station filled with kids carrying machine guns and dressed up as soilders we made our way down towards the Dead Sea. A stark desert landscape with white rock and Bedouin villages of scrap and metal nestled into the hills. The kibbutz in Ein Gedi where my family live is set on a plateau above the Dead Sea and is like an oasis in the middle of the desert. A burst of green amongst the white.Yair and Sarale had managed to get us two highly coveted tickets to a performance of the opera Nabucco, to be performed at the base of Masada the evening of our arrival. We were introduced to another member of the opera party the lovely Efrat, the partner of my cousin Gil. A large part of the desert canyons had been cleared and set up as an entrance area to the main arena. Roman columns with bars, food and stark lighting made for a surreal and beautiful world within the desert landscape. From the outside the arena looked like a Colosseum and as we filed in with the crowds the intricate guts of the huge layers of seating became evident. We had good seats in the middle of the upper rows, affording a wide and spectacular view of the stage. Huge lighting rigs towered above us on all sides and the stage was a huge expanse with the hulking figure of Masada as its backdrop. The opera itself was epic in scale, over three hours in duration with many highlights. The role of the female lead is infamous for ruining careers as the vocals soars to inhuman heights and is incredibly straining. Whole battalions of horses and camels drove their way across the stage, complete with full chariots. Masada was lit with incredible diversity throughout the show and a huge clouds of smoke pierced with moving light hovered above the stage. All in all it was an amazing feat of staging and production. With weary limbs and heavy heads we caught the bus back to our oasis.
The next day we were given a tour of the kibbutz by Yair, my uncle. His late older brother Uzi, the eldest of the three Caspi brothers, had begun the kibbutz as a young man 54 years ago with a team of like-minded and enthusiastic men and woman. Yair had come shortly after and Uzi had left. Built from nothing except young idealism and a realisation of the need for tourist infrastructure in the area of the Dead Sea, the Ein Gedi kibbutz was now quite large and successful. The kibbutz system is not unlike that of a commune. Originally everything was communal, no wages were given, all meals were eaten as a group, children were raised together as a group and the businesses of the community all grew and contributed to the kibbutz as a whole. Things now are changing with a call for a wage system and a reduction in the communal aspects of the kibbutz. One of the main businesses of the kibbutz is a guest house and here we went for an afternoon of lazing by the pool.
Another one of the first businesses of Ein Gedi is the Dead Sea Spa. So we decided to get our first taste of the Dead Sea here. Beginning with a soak in hot sulphur pools which have a maximum soak time of fifteen minutes as they are so strong and rich in minerals. From here we floated in the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth which is the densest body of water in the world. It is literally impossible to sink, your feet floating up from beneath you. With this phenomena comes the danger of a splash of water in the eyes. So incredibly salty it stings, harshly and for a long time. Then we covered ourselves head to toe in the dark mud of the sea, watching it crack and dry before washing ourselves clean and sucked of all toxins.
After a much needed day of nothing at all, but soaking in the gardens and the sun we headed to the nearby national park which had also been run at one time by the kibbutz. A meandering path amongst the rocky cliffs of the surrounding desert mountains, the walk followed the site of a creek which originates in an underground spring that bursts out of the sandy stone in a waterfall. Creating a valley like a snaking ribbon of green amongst the white stone. We spied the local rodent nick named the “Rock Rabbit” sun baking on the rocks and decided the Israelis didn’t know what a rabbit looks like. Much more majestic than the rock rodent was the sighting of a herd of Ibex. Related to the Gazelle and also sharing the name of Dotahn’s sister Yael, Dotahn felt a kin ship with this animal in relation to their beards. If only he had awesome horns to match.
Many nights were spent at Gil and Efrat’s house, filled with great discussions of Israel, travel and various esoteric topics. We very much enjoyed these evenings and became close to these two fascinating people. Their daughters Eleanor and Yuli are gorgeous and quirky little girls, Eleanor scowling at our lack of Hebrew and Yuli much quicker to accept us in her games. The desert called once more and we made our way to Masada with Yair. A towering plateau of rock which once housed a citadel built by King Herod over 2000 years ago, it was also the site of the last stand of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans after the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem. An important historical, religious and archaeological point in Israel the tumbling ruins of the fortress continue to be very impressive and host a great view of the surrounding area.
An afternoon of driving through rocks past Bedouin towns and encampments led us close to the border with Gaza to visit the rest of our cousins. First Ella who was busy with school then on to a restaurant to meet with Yaron and Ohad as well as their children. Ohad’s wife Hanit came along, pregnant with their second child their first son Omri in tow. Yaron came with his two boys, Yoav and Itai while his wife, Naama remained at home with their new baby. After lunch we headed on to Yaron’s house to meet his wife and new addition to the family, Maya.