We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Monday, September 4. 2006
Editor's Note: Our Aliyah Diary author (see the Aliyah Diary category on the left to find out about it) has applied to the IDF, and should find out by today whether he has been accepted. He is in his fifties, but is in good shape.)
By day three, we are cleared by the military to ride the Philadelphii road, the coarsely gravelled road parallel to the Egyptian border. We are warned. If you need to piss, face away from the Egyptians, as they may take a forward-facer as offensive and shoot in return. But, facing northwards, the pisser contends with the prevailing southerly winds.
Warning. We will climb 400 meters to Qadesh Barnea, where Abraham and Sarah paused on their route to Egypt, where Moshe paused with tens of thousands of ex-slave Jews on return from Egypt, waiting to hear from the dozen spies' (a prince from each tribe) report on the land of Canaan from which these Jews had been absent for four hundred years. Then, we will descend slightly to begin the one kilometer ascent to Mount Harif (Mount Spicy), highest point in the Negev.
I feel my heart would burst as I snake the last few meters to Qadesh Barnea. But I also know that if I dismount, I won't remount. I do not look upwards, but keep nose to wheel, occasionally slaloming to make the upward ascent less steep. This ascent gives new meaning to aliyah. Oddly, it is the terribly bad, unmusical tom-tomming, of the crew above that gives me impetus, if not hope, that I can arrive.
I stand on Qadesh Barnea, looking downward and north, into Israel, a
We will eventually turn north, taking an indirect route to Eilat,
stopping at Machtesh Ramon, shabbating a day, before we descend into
the more G-d-forsaken Arava, a deeper, more desolate desert, with a
string of kibbutzim necklacing north to south. A night there, a brief
rebellion by the riders against the fund-raisers, with our insisting
on leaving much earlier to avoid riding in the midday sun, before we
descend to Eilat.
But before this detour north to the Machtesh, before the descent to
the Arava, before our gentlemanly revolt, I wish to tell you of two
remarkable men, David Palmach and Lt. Itzik P. whom we meet before we
ascend Qadesh Barnea and the Lt. at our lunch on the military base.
He calls himself Palmach, not his moniker at birth. His renaming he
preforms at age eighteen to honor the Palmach, the predecessor of the
Hagannah. He arrives from Morocco at age two, becomes an Israeli by
eighteen. Now, he lives on Nitzanim, along with five families and a
gaggle of adolescents: lone teen emigres from the former Soviet Union,
Ethiopian kids who need to leave home to become Israeli.
Nitzanim, named after a delicate flower that announces early spring
is the ironic name of this desolate outpost at the corner of Israel, a
stone's throw from Palestinian Gaza and a bullet away from Egypt. He
is proud to announce that the brackish ground water, which they have
learned to desalinate, could serve thousands of inhabitants for one
hundred years: so he told a visiting Indian diplomat. Unfortunately,
the next morning the water of a hundred years couldn't flow; massive
jugs are brought in for breakfast. They experiment with raising dates
and assorted foods on brackish water; a futuristic, Jules-Vernish
contraption that greets us before we see the settlement is part of
their solar water system. Their major goal, however, is to help teens
He is remarkably short, this triathelte. Announces at teh start that
he won't speak of himself, but of his redoubled efforts to save youth,
redoubled since his fifteen year old daughter's death in a fall near
Ben Gurion's desert grave. He will convert mourning to action. His
remaining son, I will tell you of,and the miracle that David Palmach
believes his son has wrought. With G-d's help, says this head-covered
His daughter was on a field trip with teens, learning the land,
hiking, rock-climbing, camping. There she died. Too long to get a
helicopter in to the rocky outcroppings. He has slides of her.
His son, serving in the armored corps in Gaza, is called back to
learn about his sister's death. As the only remaining child, the army
won't send him back to Gaza. But the son has his own ideas. Asks to
retrain as an aviator. Graduates from helicopter training. David
Palmach shows us his son's Cobra. A few weeks back, a girl falls in
the Judean Desert. The brother flies in to save her life.
This is David Palmach's sense of redemption. Yes, he continues with
slides of the teens in the programs, teh famous visitors who will come
for a few hours, or a day, from Arik Sharon to some U.N. guys. But
what reemains in memory is how David Palmach and his son have tried to
transform their tragedy into the world's betterment. Small
betterments: some teenagers learning about solar energy, learning
Hebrew, learning sports, or saving a fallen girl's life.
We are all exhausted that night. But no one leaves David Palmach's
talk. For it is his life that speaks.
Lt. Itzik is proud that he learned his English in Brooklyn when he
was ten, eleven. Looks forward to practicing; asks us to correct him.
Which we don't, as we are too entranced by what he says, by what he
does, than how he says it.
We had been delayed entrance to the base from the Philadelphii Road:
unclear to the command who gave us permission to ride this military
trail; unclear if we had security clearance to enter. Awkward period
as we stand astride our bikes in the midday sun; nowhere else within
kilometers to find shade, eat. Finally granted permission, we invade
the provence of 18 to 20 year-olds. We are given leeway to use the
lu, if only one can find it. A trough -- filled with old toothpaste
tubes, some paper, old razers -- is for washing; showers with one
tepid water tap and no curtains; toilets without lids and certainly no
paper. A young fellow ferrets out a roll and tosses it up to me as I
am enthroned. I once was taught by a meticulous woman that one can
use such seatless wonders by planting each foot on the rim and
squatting over. But, I am no a squatter. Water over the head
afterwards is a relief.
This is feral dog-land. There are curs all over. They rule, whatever
these humans may fancy. They roam in packs and a young soldieress
prizes a puppy cradled in her arm. Our bike flat fixer, Charlie,
blasts Bruce Springsteen from his truck cab at all stops, wears an
Australian outback hat, bolo tie, Snakeskin boots, has taken to two
wheels before our lunch break and thinks he can tour the base. The
dogs think otherwise and several packs chase him as he pedals
furiously for the gate, hoping that someone will let him out before
the curs get him. The mother dog is particularly ferocious, perhaps
sensing that he, unlike the soldieress, is not a puppy cuddler. He
ditches the bike and leaps head-first into the cab of his truck, into
Springsteen's arms, or blasts.
By this, day three, I and a few others become particular about our
victuals. I toss much of the bread, work at the humus and vegetables,
suck salt off peanuts and spit out the latter. Much water. A few
fruit. Take just enough dates to eat later, before send-off. We have
a few moments of lolling beneath a corrugated roof of shade before Lt.
Itzik is introduced.
I am in no mood for lectures, demonstrations, education. Just tell
me the next leg, the distance, the terrain, the percent inclines (and
any promising descents). I have become a two-wheeled laconic Sergeant
Friday: Just the facts, mam. Want Charlie to check my chain derailers
should he ever deign exit his cab, face the curs.
But, I am entranced and grateful once Lt. Itzik starts.
We sit campfire style around him as he stands, rifle slung diagonally
over shoulder. He is tall, swarthy, wears a kippah on closely-cropped
hair. His heavily accented English shows little trace of Brooklyn a
He is really from a tank brigade, called down from Gaza to help out
here. Just temporary. He has pride about tank battalion, but also
sense of responsibility to get matters in place here. What matters?
The Egyptian border is porous. Unlike Gaza, with various warning
systems and such on the fence, unlike the West Bank's new fence, with
both electronic warning systems, carefully landscaped rims of sand to
reveal footprints and more, the Egyptian border has this modest,
rickety, rusted chainlink. Doesn't bother the Egyptians -- the
illegal trafficking of drugs and whores -- as the penetrance is from
there to here: no one seems to want to penetrate Egypt from Israel.
They do nothing to interdict the human sex slave traffic: your
problem, not ours is the unspoken Egyptian attitude. But, arms
trafficking is new and more problematic. Much of the trafficking is
done by Bedouins who know the land, the paths, the secrets of this
desolation. But, arms are treacherous to Israel; end up in the West
Bank, Gaza. His job description runs something like this. Given some
Intelligence reports, he heads out with a small squad in the night;
disappears to somewhere -- perhaps on this side of the border, perhaps
not, for three days and nights. At night, lie down in shallow pits,
covering oneself with a camouflage sheet. Wait. Then capture. Return
for a few hours to shower, make sure his boys clean up their living
areas, clean their guns, then back into the field. He is
matter-of-fact about this; no bravado, but yes a sense of
responsibility and of the importance of his tasks for Israel.
He brightens a bit when asked about after the army. Perhaps the
requisite trip abroad -- India or South America, maybe back to exotic
Brooklyn. Then to college. He feels a bit too young, he says to worry
about what happens beyond that.
A bit too young, but too old, he sounds. This fellow who lies on his
belly at night, waiting for smugglers of drugs, of women, of arms,
seems both youthful, yet heavy-shouldered.
And for all the wheeling I have done, it is Itzik and David Palmach
whose inner landscapes remain most alive. When the twelve spies
returned to Moshe, only Joshua and Caleb found hope in the land --
milk, honey and such. One of theother ten spies said that next to the
giant Canaanites, the Israelites look like ants, grasshoppers. But,
these Israelites -- these two -- look like giants.
Copyright 2006, N. Szajnberg
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I like to travel! I have seen already a lot of countries except Indonesia but I think I will visit this land, too. Last August I was in Cyprus, it was great! There are the fabulous ocean, good Cyprus villa, wonderful sunsets, Spa salon, wine tasting and many more.