Monday, June 7, 2010

Professor Louise Harmon - A First Taste of Israel

Our first week in Israel has been amazing – and intense. We’ve toured the Israeli Supreme Court and the Knesset, and from the safety of our bus, viewed Jerusalem and its environs from every conceivable angle. We’ve also survived five days of class in an arctic, subterranean classroom located on the “minus 3” floor of the Agron Street Guest House. We’ve walked miles and miles in the brilliant, sometimes blinding, sunlight, trying to learn the ways of this fascinating city.

All of this against the backdrop of an international crisis in Gaza. This city virtually hums with politics, but the events at sea this past week turned the volume up on the hum. The U.S. State Department was issuing travelers’ advisories about going into the Old City, and our families and friends were plying us with worried and worrying emails, inquiring into our safety. Oddly enough, while the presence of the military was perhaps more acutely felt on the streets and security was tighter, the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants seemed to be in a state of peaceful equipoise. It was much more calming to be close to the eye of the storm than in its outer path.

By the end of the week, most of us were sorely in need of a break. On Friday and Saturday, we took about 20 of our students on a bus trip to Masada, Ein Gedi, the Dead Sea, and then for an overnight stay at Kibbutz Almog at the north end of the Dead Sea. Masada was the mountain fortress built by that master, maniacal builder, King Herod, where the zealots made their last stand against the Romans. About half of the students climbed up to Masada; it took about half an hour, and they were drenched in sweat and panting when they arrived at the top. Others (more sane) opted for the air-conditioned cable car; we were not drenched in sweat and panting when we arrived at the top. By the time the tour was over, however, we were all drenched in sweat and panting. (I have decreed that my entire allotment of sweat for the remainder of 2010 is going to be spent during this month in Israel, and that when I come home, I am not going to sweat again until May 2011.) The anecdote for this sweat fest was a brief hike in Ein Gedi until we came upon the first rushing waterfall and swimming hole. Then almost all of the participants of the Israel 2010 summer program stripped down, and cooled down in the fresh, emerald green water of this desert oasis.

Kate Jordan (Professor Harmon's daughter) and James Durham (Program Administrator) have just taken an arduous, air-conditioned cable car ride to the top of Masada -- and are resting from the strain.

Israel 2010 cooling down in the oasis of Ein Gedi.

Refreshed, we moved on to the Dead Sea where we engaged in the ritual torture of mud baths and floating in the highly salinized water. I love the Dead Sea for its stunning visuals, but frankly the sensation of salt water ten times more potent than the sea assaulting a myriad of as-of-yet undiagnosed injuries on my pickled body, while trying to navigate my stinging, besieged nether regions along the razor sharp accumulations of crystallized salts that make up the floor of the Dead Sea – well, suffice it to say, I am more of a desert oasis, waterfall and fresh water pool sort of woman. Some disagreed, however, and took to the Dead Sea like – I was going to say, like a duck to water, but no self-respecting duck would, or could, take to that brine. To me, it is one of those required tourist endeavors that are far more fun to have done, than to do.

Israel 2010 students slathering Dead Sea mud.

Israel 2010 floating in the Dead Sea.

The rest of the trip was spent hanging out at the Kibbutz Almog that sat in the middle of the desert under the shade of trees, towering, flowering bushes, and on a spread of highly irrigated, lime green grass. The Kibbutz had splendid food, a pub, and an inviting, large swimming pool that we shared on Saturday with the other guests of the kibbutz, mostly families on Shabbat outings with their many, many children. Some of us took a morning trip to Qumran to see the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by a shepherd boy in 1947, and its accompanying archeological site. On the way home, we stopped at a roadside café/gas station/camel riding stand, and for 20 shekels, our students rode around a small grassy area perched atop a few ungracious, geriatric, sputtering camels. Many photo opportunities, two of which we will share with you.

Babe Root (Florida International) on a camel ride.

Shana Slawitsky (Touro) leads a camel being ridden by Kate Jordan.

Now we are back home, showered, nursing sunburns and too much pub time, and sleeping off our fatigue. Classes begin again for this week on Sunday afternoon, but by then, we’ll be rested and ready.

By Professor Louise Harmon, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in Israel 2010

1 comment:

  1. Wow! seems like you had a lot of fun... there is no doubt - there is a magical feeling when your in the holy land... My parents took me for a trip there when I was a kid, I don't remember much except for the unique, holy feeling... and of course - The Dead Sea...:)