Pessah sun worship in the Sinai

By HARLEY BRAIDMAN
April 13, 2009 15:23




At first, I stayed in Haifa for a day or two, even going to Kiryat Bialik, a satellite town, to visit a school, but the pandemonium there convinced me that I could not possibly become a teacher because I did not have the power to control a class, so within a few days I arrived in Jerusalem, where I found a room at the Jewish Agency hostel for immigrants, with no idea of what I was going to do. I soon found a job at the Jewish National Fund, but it did not last long and I gradually drifted into editing, compiling an index for the Middle East Record, which paid sporadically, and writing book reviews for The Jerusalem Post, until Misha Louvish, the English editor at the Government Press Office's publication department, took me on as an assistant and sent me to an afternoon ulpan to boost my Hebrew. He was a canny, dour Scotsman, but knew his onions and I worked there for a year, the most important occasion being the visit of Pope Paul VI in 1964. When the pope came through the Mandelbaum Gate on an almost frosty March evening, President Shazar looking almost petrified was there to greet him, together with the Israeli government. In those days, the Vatican only maintained de facto relations with Israel. I remember writing that maybe all the fuss about White Christmases was just folklore, but of course that was before I experienced a real Israeli wet winter in 1968. Dynamic Mayor Teddy Kollek flew off to America on a fund-raising mission and a heavy European type snowfall cut off Jerusalem for four days, paralyzing life in many parts of the city. At that time, the municipality did not have heavy machinery to deal with such problems and Kollek received heavy criticism for not being around to deal with the crisis. Actually, Jerusalem gets snow every two or three years; after all, it is mostly 800 meters above sea level, yet we here at Ma'aleh Adumim 300 meters lower but just six kilometers away as the crow flies, very rarely see it. It might tickle you to learn that Jerusalem and London have the same amount of annual precipitation: 24 inches, but there is none from May to October unless something extraordinary occurs, which is why Israel and Greece can claim to have 300 days of sun yearly. It was not until the summer of 1973 when we had brought our first car, a bright red Ford Escort 1100 cc. assembled in Israel and a green igloo-like tent that went up or collapsed in two minutes, known as the IDF tent, that we went sun-worshipping in earnest, but initially the auspices were not favorable. The very first night when we pitched it on Eilat's western shore, a very strong wind almost blew it away until I realized that we had to bolster it with heavy stones to keep it stable. That night, a family of French tourists kindly gave us blankets and we slept under the sky. The next day we drove into Sinai, where we spent our summer holidays for the next 10 years, mostly at Nuieiba or Neviot, but also at Dahab and Na'ama Bay, which is very close to Sharm e-Sheikh. There our tent faced a hotel owned by Haim Schiff, a scion of the Herut Party, who also owned the Diplomat and President hotels in Jerusalem, but Rahel said she preferred our tent and I know why she expressed that sentiment: she is a free spirit, who does not like being bound by fixed times for breakfast, lunch or suppr, the tourist bus schedule, etc., but prefers doing her own thing when she likes. Sinai is a magical place: the vivid colors, the flora, the fauna, the desert, the oases, the huge, sandy beaches, the Beduin, the coral and marine life; and also, the chance to escape the cares of ordinary life and ponder the mysteries of existence, just on our doorstep at knock-down prices. The most fantastic site in my opinion was Ras el-Muhammad, the southernmost point, because of the corals, the scuba dirving and the observatin point looking down on shoals of barracuda fish, sharks, etc. It was a favorite haunt of Sam Lewis, the US ambassador, but I only went there once: it was enought to relist the abundance of underwater life. However, we nearly became a cropper, as the Ford Escort became bogged down in the sand. Luckily some other tourists and some soldiers got us out. Six months prior to Israel's withdrawal from Sinai, 5,000 Israelis flocked to Neviot on Succot for the penultimate time, in a typically carnival atmosphere. However, one figure was missing: Wahad Lira, a wizened Beduin figure, in beggar's clothes and and carrying a longish staff, reported to be around 100 years old. He had once been a tracker and had helped General Allenby's forces in their offensive to capture the Holy Land in 1917. Most people did not know this, but only his meanderings from tent to tent during recent years in search of bakshish. He had once frightened our daughters by his strange appearance, but Rahel always gave him a pound. Now, he was gone and Nueiba was a less colorful place. At the end of March 1982, on the Pessah holiday, we went to our camping site there for the last time under Israeli rule, and appropriately enough, there was a heavy downpour and thunderstorms, driving many holidaymakers away, but we stayed on because the weather soon changed. The moshav close by was closing down and its honey-dew melons would no longer grace the Queen's table in Buckingham Palace. When we came back there a few years later under Egyptian sovereignty, one would never have known that it had once been Israeli. The Hebrew signposts had disappeared, so had the petrol station, the communal toilet facilities, the restaurant and hotel resort, replaced by hushot (one room, cheap huts), but it still retained its magical atmosphee. More annoyingly, everyone had to go through the Taba terminal, and if you had your own car, a bureaucratic process as well to get insurance and car plates that took ages in the burning sun. The Egyptians built new, classy but popular-priced hotels and chalets, attracting 50,000 Israelis a year, until terrorism raised its ugly head. By then, we had given up our tent.


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