Thursday, October 8, 2009

I Survived the Desert… Meaning I Survived the Culminating Jeep Ride

מה רבו מעשיך ה', כלם בכחמה עשית, מלאה הארץ קנינך
"How great are your works, Hashem, all of them you made in wisdom, the land is filled with your"

If only we knew what we were getting ourselves into when we piled onto the busses to head down to Mitzpe Ramon for desert survival – or better put, what Nativ was getting us into.  We were scheduled to leave around 6:15, so we probably left around 6:30 – I don't remember exactly.  I had a nice nap on the bus and woke up as we got into Be'er Sheva, where the Be'er Sheva track people will be in February (that's a joke, Be'er Sheva track no longer exists).  We stopped at the Masorti beit k'nesset there for Shacharit; we essentially made the minyan.  I was shaliach tzibbur – it happens sometimes.  We ate breakfast, I put some paper towels on my aravot, and we got back on the bus to finish up our journey down to Mitzpe Ramon.  As we got closer there were many times where it felt like we were going to get off but we didn't; we began to muse whether survival was surviving on a bus for three days.

But we got off, and survival in fact was not surviving on a bus for three days.  To be honest, I don't remember much of the details of the first half of the hikes.  I do remember that I had a great time hiking and enjoyed the company of my friend Sophie.  Classic Judah Klutz Moment: I was wearing hiking boots, and the loops on my shoelaces were pretty big.  At the top of shoe there are two extra hooks to use to tighten the shoelaces, and one of the loops got caught in a hook on the other shoe while I was walking so that I suddenly was walking one legged.  I didn't trip though – instead Sophie and my friend Lainie made fun of me plenty and called me Twinkle Toes.  We stopped at some scenic places along the way to catch some shade, rest for a little bit, and it was very nice.  As we approached the campsite, we played "don't drop the beat," our favorite game from pilgrimage.  I didn't do so well – was a little rusty.

We got to our campsite about 45 minutes before dark.  As night rolled around I wasn't in the most social mood, so as people were having soup I lay down and then I had a fantastic conversation with my madricha Cori about life and also some Jewish stuff.  It's great talking to Cori about that stuff, since she grew up non-religious, became Modern Orthodox in college and made aliyah, and she hasn't had so much exposure to Conservative Judaism.  So we talk a lot about that and it gives us both a lot to think about.  Dinner was great, then – excellent chicken.  Afterwards we had a bonfire and Josh played guitar; we had a great time.  Given that we aren't surrounded by other distractions and artificial time, it was natural to go to bed at 9 and wake up at 5 or so.

Monday's hike had lots of ups and downs – climbing up mountains, coming down them.  The morning was much easier than the afternoon.  It was also the longest of the three days, since we hiked the whole day through, from 7-5 (or 17 in world time).  I remember hiking for lots of the morning with my friend Ally (whose parents my dad married, it's like we were destined to be friends) and I carried the water jerry (or whatever it's called).  At around 10:30 or so we passed the Kibbutz Track coming the other way and said hi to them for thirty seconds.  We sat down at a "tree" to have mid-morning snack.  As we were about to play a game, someone picked up a rock and said "hey, a scorpion!"  That was the end of that.  The afternoon got increasingly difficult with all of the descents; sometimes going up was easier than going down.  I wasn't so hungry when we got to lunch and was a bit worn out.  We stayed at our lunch location for over an hour, as people napped.  It was sort of humorous the way people dropped dead asleep.

Then we got to the afternoon campsite, again a little before sunset.  It was a windy afternoon there.  I davened mincha on my own and then cut up some vegetables for dinner.  Dinner that night was hot dogs, turkey, and fries.  The turkey was not quite to my liking, but the others were good.  I went to sleep shortly after dinner, after I studied some Mishneh Torah (which I had stopped to do a couple of times throughout the tiyyul), but I woke up a few times during the night.

As morning approached I started feeling sick.  While they asked us not to tarry in getting up so we could get started early, before the sun would come out, I didn't have much energy.  At the beginning of davening, I didn't put a tallit on and had a hard time concentrating and even saying the words.  But luckily, as davening progressed, I started feeling better, and put on a tallit and all.  Just some, or actually a myriad, of stupid flies invaded our makom tefillah and swarmed us.

Our hike Tuesday morning consisted essentially of a three-part ascent of a mountain.  We had a very easy trek at the beginning, where we were walking and having fun on flat land.  When we got to a shaded area to relax before the major ascent, our guide Michal told us that we had traveled halfway, which was a huge relief to us – it just meant we had an hour and a half of a difficult climb up, but that was it.  It was also Michal's birthday, 21 actually, but it doesn't mean anything in Israel really.

The first ascent was a lot of fun – we were actually climbing up stuff, so that was fun.  The next two kinda sucked.  The harder part for me throughout the tiyyul as a whole was that I have asthma.  I went slowly with Sarah and Lainie and Jesse Lender.

We reached the top to find ourselves on a huge plateau and celebrated a little bit, took some pictures.  Then we had to do a trust walk – perhaps off of the cliff for all we know.  I didn't really do it right – wasn't quite in the mindset.  The next part was fairly powerful, though.  We sat in silence as Michal passed cards around explaining the power of silence.  Each card cleverly built up the intensity of the exercise, and culminated with everyone lying on their backs, pondering in silence.  I found that in the desert, in general, silence was a very powerful thing because there isn't other sound interfering; silence was truly complete.

So then we ate and descended from the mountain.  Cori and I continued our conversation from the other night, with other participants weighing on what we were saying.  At a certain point we stopped because we would not be continuing together.  One by one, we were sent off to walk a significant distance by ourselves to think about the tiyyul.  We then met back together to discuss what we thought about.

Then came our jeep ride, which I mentioned in the title.  I was in the last jeep.  Immediately we were off to a bumpy ride and were riding not really in our seats but rather wherever we were thrown around in the jeep.  The driver drove fast and bumpy.  Sarah screamed in excitement the whole time.  Then came the best part: we see someone on the side of the rode, and the driver pulls over.  Yossi says "Ahlan," and the guy asks if there's a seat for him.  So the driver says, "ta'aleh la-gag," get on the roof.  I laughed because I thought he was sorta being, in your face, I have no room for your sorry bum.  But the guy got on the roof.  The driver slowed down, but it was still a bumpy ride, and we kept looking out the window to see if he would fall off.  We got to a main road eventually, though, and he got off safely.  We survived the jeep ride, yes indeed.

What was most significant for me during this tiyyul?  One, the desert brings an opportunity to distance ourselves from the daily hustle-bustle and computers and focus on the people around us.  I got to know some newer people, and even people I knew, or even knew fairly well, I got to know better.  That was great.  It was also in the desert for me that I could truly appreciate the vastness of God's creations.  The mountains, the valleys, the beauty of it altogether with the sunrises and sunsets gave me an added appreciation for God's ability to create wondrous pieces of nature.  It's something I thought about often during the hikes.

V'zehu zeh.

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