Imagine what it would be like to stop everything you are doing, to forget about all your responsibilities, to step away from your crazy, demanding life. Imagine sitting by yourself surrounded by the peaceful sounds of nature (and occasionally the grunt of a camel in the distance), laying down looking up at the stars above, and hearing your own thoughts as you reflect on your day, week, or whatever else crosses your mind. This is what we experienced as we walked into the dark, cold, and quiet Negev desert to stargaze while reflecting on our thoughts, ideas, and adventures in Israel thus far.
I know for me this has been the most moving and impactful experience of the last 6 days because I had the time and quiet environment to truly think about everything we have done and seen, and thus appreciate it, connect it to my everyday life in America, and realize how I will forever be changed as a result. However, there were a lot of exciting events that led up to this moment in the desert. Our day started at 6 a.m. as we headed out of Jerusalem, with the sunrise in the background, towards Masada for a difficult hike with an amazing view. Once on top of the mountain overlooking the stunning sights below and out into the distance, we did our naming ceremony. Four of us, including me, presented our self-chosen Hebrew names and what these names mean to us. After this, everyone shouted the name and if it was accepted, the mountains would shout it back. After hearing an echo of each name, we knew everyone's was accepted!
After the long hike up and down Masada, we swam in the Dead Sea. Well, floated in the Dead Sea. It was an amazing experience to lay in a body of water that is 30% salt, one that you cannot fully understand until you are effortlessly floating or until you taste salt on your lips without even touching the water. I still feel the salt on my hands and in my hair! Following this, we drove farther into this desert, seeing road signs that cautioned about camel crossings. Soon enough we arrived at the Bedouin camp with the view (and smell) of multiple camels- the camels that we would soon be riding. I didn't realize how tall camels were until I was sitting on one walking through the desert, or when they tried to lay down by leaning forward on their front legs and then backwards, almost throwing me off. After the short but exhilarating camel ride, we were introduced to our tents for the night, Bedouin history and culture, and an amazing Bedouin style dinner. This led up to the peaceful and reflective walk into the desert, which was followed by a camp fire, music, and S'mores to culture the Israelis to some of our traditions! Overall, it was an amazing day, my favorite day of the trip so far, filled with hiking, history, meaning, and fun!
Danielle Fiedler, Bus 1297
The Brody Jewish Center, Hillel at the University of Virginia, is the focal point in a renaissance of Jewish life for the 1,800 Jewish students on Grounds.