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Checking Out the Scene

It is late at night and the lot of us are wiped out from jet lag and eating when our bodies are not hungry and not sleeping when our bodies are tired and yet none of us are asleep in bed just yet. Our Israeli Arab friends are putting on a mock Bedouin wedding for us … looks a little like the hora – lots of people trying to dance but not really knowing what they are doing – but with a slightly different musical accompaniment. It is an end to an interesting first full day.

We are staying at an eco lodge in Mitzpei Ramon that sits on the edge of Machtesh Ramon – a gorgeous ‘inverted mountain’ – okay a huge crater found below ground level. While it is not the Front Range, it is still pretty spectacular. The Eco Lodge is run by an Israeli named Ziv who uses environmental education to teach leadership and stewardship for the land to those communities in the Negev region of Israel who may or may not have the financial resources of simply the awareness of the need to spend time doing such things. The place and Ziv are great examples of Israelis who envision an Israel that embraces all of the diverse communities and cultures. Ziv spends his time giving such opportunities and education to those in Israel who may not have access to them.

A few of us fell asleep (well at least we tried) under the spectacular starry sky and woke up (much to our chagrin) to an equally spectacular sunset over the crater, the Machtesh. Our first day in the Negev, Israel’s desert, we spent trying to stay cool in the desert heat and on the bus traveling around the desert’s different spots. We actually began the day with a local Israeli leading a session of hand in fist tai chi – part of the eco lodge’s mission of opening hearts and minds to different ways of thinking about the world. And then off to a local climbing wall with the Arab group sharing the lodge with us. Unfortunately, our entire group as of yet does not include contemporary Israeli Jews (they will join us next week in Mar Elias) … so we spent a bit of our afternoon at the historic Sde Boker kibbutz at Ben Gurion Environmental School meeting a few of its Jewish students. The time that we and the group of Israel Arabs spent with them was short, but provided a little taste of the kind of encounter we may expect next week. We met Israeli students who presented the extremes of attitudes towards their country and their impending military service – some were eager and some expressed (well, let’s call it) reticence about what lay ahead for them.

From Sde Boker we came to Arad the largest Bedouin city in Israel (and possibly the world – you may have to Google that one and check my facts). Ziv brought to the house of some friends of his who had the ENTIRE group of us in their home (some 40 people whom they have never met). As I mentioned I do not think any of us were really hungry, but the plates of eshtanor (bread), rice and roasted chickens that were placed on the floor before us were too good to pass up. Besides, Bedouins are famous for their hospitality and we would have certainly been rude and not in the spirit of our trip not to indulge – so we did.

We continue to try and get to know our Arab counterparts … struggling with the language barrier, cultural differences and our groups’ desire to both get to know these individuals as people AND get in their heads and hear how they think about this place and their relationship to it. Some are wary to talk politics, others are not so confident with their English (and with the exception of one of us, our Arabic is less than stellar) and hey, we have only been here ONE day. We are trying to pace ourselves and understand not simply the challenges of dialogue in this situation, but of dialogue in general. Speaking of pacing ourselves – who knows what time it is – but the starry sky is calling me … Lilah Tov!

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