Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Rosh Ha'shana break...surprisingly eventful! by Lisa Crystal, MSIH September blogger

Map of my holiday travels:
A. Beer Sheva  B. Ein Gedi/Dead Sea  D. Organic Goat Farm  E. Tiberias on
Sea of  Galilee  F. Mount of Beatitudes  G. Nazereth   H.  Tel Aviv
Rosh Ha’shana (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur have come and gone, and Succoth is just upon us.  In the midst of all the holidays, we’ve also had our first full week of class.  I will write more about classes in the next post, but I wanted to report on my surprisingly eventful Rosh Ha’shana break.  My roommate Claire decided to rent a car at the last minute and started the weekend off with a day trip to the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi.  I have always lived in places renowned for their cold temperatures, so driving through the wild, open Negev desert is still a little thrilling.  We enjoyed a refreshing hike at the ancient oasis of Ein Gedi and a not-so-refreshing dip in the warm Dead Sea.  Between the shrinking shoreline of the Dead Sea and the preciousness of an oasis in the desert, I was reminded of the region’s delicate environmental, political, and economic situation.  My best response was to try to take shorter showers.
Oasis at Ein Gedi

We returned from the Dead Sea with enough time to join about half our class for a New Year’s dinner hosted by another classmate.  The next evening, after a three-hour tour of the Israeli countryside, we arrived at an organic goat farm in the verdant Galilee region, where we spent the night in large geodesic dome tents. The next morning, we drove to the Sea of Galilee and hiked around scenic Mount Arbel, which overlooks the lake and has ruins from a fortress in its cliffs and caves.

Rosh Ha'shana dinner
Our last Sea of Galilee stop was the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus is said to have preached a famous set of sermons to curious crowds in the natural amphitheater of the hillside.  After climbing in the hills alongside the Sea of Galilee, the tourist destination seemed fake and romanticized.  It was covered with unnaturally lush grass, tropical flowers, and a big snack bar (from which, I’ll admit, I enjoyed a passionfruit icee).  I wanted to tell all the tourists to go to Mount Arbel to recreate the more humble original ambiance.  

From peaceful Galilee, we headed to Nazareth, which the guidebooks warned was sometimes a disappointment.  It is a busy little city and as far as historical sites go, only has a few traditional commemorative churches (my favorite name was “The Basilica of Jesus the Adolescent”).  The town almost seemed irreverent; people went about their everyday business as if they didn’t care that this place was revered around the world.  I felt like modern Nazareth gave me a taste of Jesus’ Nazareth: it was not terribly prosperous and had a bad reputation with the tourists.  But we’ll give it another chance next time.

Tracing amino acids in the
sand in Tel Aviv
On the way back to Be’er Sheva, we stopped by the beach in Tel Aviv to dip our feet in the Mediterranean.  Since we just can’t escape med school, we practiced writing amino acid structures in the sand.  We were quiet as we neared the end of our whirlwind road trip -- returning to Be’er Sheva is a little depressing.  It’s is hot, dry, sandy, dirty, and run-down.  There are certainly more depressing cities in the world, but Be’er Sheva is so close to so many exciting places, which people envision when I say I’m studying in Israel.  My new goal is to find the beauty that must exist here.

Classic Dead Sea photo (Lisa and Claire)
One such source is the people.  Be’er Sheva is the modern anthropologist’s dream city.  There are large immigrant populations from Russia and Ethiopia, mixed with Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews who have been in the city for a few generations,  and Bedouin Arabs whose ancestors have roamed the Negev for thousands of years.  Sitting in Soroka Hospital’s courtyard, it is not unusual to simultaneously see a Haredi Jewish man in a black suit, wide-brimmed hat, and long sidelocks; an Arab woman in a Burka; a young woman in tight jeans and heels; and a Bedouin man in a long white robe and desert head wear a la Lawrence of Arabia.  Somehow these people mostly get along: I’m told that Be’er Sheva is one of the most ethnically integrated cities in Israel.  Add a technologically advanced hospital that serves over 60% of the land area of Israel, and it’s a fantastic place to learn global medicine.  (Lisa Crystal, first year student, MSIH)