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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Shabbat in Mitzpeh Ramon – Guest Post from Carol

Posted by rabbiart on November 15, 2008

The first ride did not include Shabbat. Instead the riders rode from Sunday to Thursday. Nigel of Hazon gets the credit for suggesting the change in schedule to include Shabbat. This is more than just a schedule change – it is one of the reasons that the ride is not just a sporting event, but instead is a physical, emotional and spiritual growth event.

I left late on Friday and ended up meetingRuins at Avdat up with the riders at Avdat. For the riders, Avdat was just a pit stop. For me, it was a magical morning as I had the entire site to myself until a tour bus arrived just as I was leaving. I have always been fascinated with archaeology, and Avdat is particularly interesting. My first activity was to watch a movie about the Nabateans, since Avdat was an important Nabatean city. The movie described their role as nomads who made their living as the intermediary carrying perfumes and spices across the desert to the port of Gaza. I spent the rest of my visit hiking around the ruins of the city. The Nabateans were adept at water management, and I was particularly intrigued by the remains of their sewer system and cisterns. The desert is beautiful but harsh, so water management made the difference between life and death.

Mitzpeh Ramon is not a particularly impressive town. The population is an interesting mix of Moroccan immigrants, Black Hebrews, Russians and New Age/hippies. Its main claim to fame is its location next to a very impressive natural crater, Machtesh Ramon. The hotel was converted from an apartment building, so the rooms are small apartments. Unfortunately there is not an elevator, so bringing luggage up the stairs was tough after the long ride. We certainly did not expect to find a top quality chef in this town at this hotel – but the food was unbelievable.

Shabbat started with wonderful Kabbalat Shabbat services in the nearby community center led by two riders – Rabbi Mark and Rabbi Amy. Our joy was increased further when two ride participants – Noam and Valerie – announced their engagement at dinner.

This morning we went back to the community center for Traditional Egalitarian services (isn’t that an oxymoran?). Art read the third aliyah, and it was a long one! He felt good about learning such a long aliyah in only a week. After services, Art led a text study session, focusing on extracting meaning from the specific wording of the text.

Lunch was another spectacular meal – another all you can eat buffet, with salads, chicken, beef, fish, desserts etc. After lunch Arava Institute graduates participated in a panel discussion. The crew is staffed by the graduates, so we have had the chance to know them during the ride. Each student spoke about where they came from, why they went to the Arava Institute and what they are currently doing. The graduates include Jews from Israel, the U.S., London and Canada, Palestinians from Israel, Palestinian areas and Jordan and Jordanians. All graduates spoke of the challenges to their identity/narrative that occurred as a result of living and learning with their fellow students. One of the visions of the Arava Institute is that in the future Israel, a Palestinian State and Jordan will work together on environmental issues because their ministers of the environment will be fellow graduates of the Arava Institute.  A Palestinian Israeli graduate is currently the head of Air Permitting for the Israeli Ministery of the Environment, so there are steps in this direction. The graduates have developed personal friendships as well as professional relationships, and their ongoing connection is facilitated by an alumni organization and professional conferences. As one graduate states “You can check out, But you can never leave.” Their connection to each other and to co-existence was clear.

Toward the end of the day, we walked to Machtesh Ramon. The canyon is beautiful, particularly at sunset. Riders shared thoughts about what they have gained from participating in the ride, and some of the graduates expressed their gratitude for the riders’ support. This is key, because it is the funds raised by the bike ride that support the scholarships for most of the students (American students pay their own way).

We looked to the sky, watching the sun set and the stars appear. When three stars were visible in the sky, we made havdalah. Noam and Valerie led havdalah together after expressing how much it meant to them to become engaged in this place in this community. Afterwards we sang and danced in celebration. And then . . . another briefing session, spectacular dinner and bed! All in all, a Shabbat experience that we will both remember as a highlight of the trip.


One Response to “Shabbat in Mitzpeh Ramon – Guest Post from Carol”

  1. Shirley Gould said

    Thank you for a fascinating report. It sounds as if waiting two years for this Israel trip was very much worth while.

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