For Kibbutz Kalya elder Gaby Flexer, a Dead Sea win in Friday’s New7Wonders of
Nature competition would bring an increased surge of tourism to his beloved arid
region and salty sea – which, he finds, is disappearing before his
“When I came to Kalya, the water was near the road,” he said,
gesturing toward Route 90.
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Since then, the beaches have receded a good
400 meters to 500 m. from this spot, he estimated.
While a victory in the
competition, which concludes on Friday at 1:11 p.m. Israel time, would by no
means refill the sandy shores with the water that once sparkled there, Flexer
and other residents of the area believe it would bring an unparalleled boost to
the region’s leisure and sightseeing industries. In hopes of securing this win,
the government has invested millions of shekels and conducted widespread public
relations campaigns both in Israel and abroad.
Flexer, who was born in
Argentina and moved to Israel with his parents at age seven, founded the kibbutz
with several of his peers from the Kfar Hayarok agricultural high school in
1972, when he was 18.
He and the others on the kibbutz – which began with
50 people and only 15 houses – quickly called the place home.
then, we built, built, built,” he said. “I built it, I love it.”
with purple flowers and palm fronds, Kibbutz Kalya makes around 50 percent of its income from tourism, most of which comes from visitors who spend time at
the adjacent Qumran archeological site. In total, 350 people live in Kalya;
among these are about half of the kibbutz children – including one of Flexer’s
four children – who have stayed on and formed their own families.
kibbutz features a stable of horses, rows of milking cows and a turkey pen, as
well as 100 hectares of thriving date trees – and of course, the glittering Dead
Sea waters on the other side of Route 90.
During a tour of that beach on
Thursday, Flexer lamented the water’s drastic recession.
“You can see
where we needed to put a boat dock on the sea six years ago,” he said, pointing
to a large wooden platform on stilts, now only providing access to desert sands
below. “Every year, the water goes down a meter – so you need to run after the
The water’s retreat is specifically problematic for kibbutz beach
management, he explained, as “each time the water recedes, we need to build new
bathrooms” for older visitors who can’t walk as far. The most recent facilities,
which are still relatively new, cost the kibbutz NIS 750,000, he
“In another few years, there won’t be a beach here,” he
Back in the 1960s and ’70s, according to Flexer, the Dead Sea
received replenishments of 1.5 billion cubic meters annually from the
surrounding streams and rivers, but it currently only receives about 500 million
cu.m., as the Jordanian and Israeli governments sorely need water for other
But climbing down the wooden stairs toward the beach below,
tourists seemed unaware of the sea’s dire straits, clamoring excitedly to take
photographs of a beachside bar sign that read: “The lowest bar in the
About a 10-minute ride south of Kalya, other tourists eager to
take the Dead Sea home with them filled the Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories factory
store to capacity that same day.
“We started from a fairytale, [that] you
go into the water and come out feeling like a baby,” said Dr. Ze’evi Maor, vice
president for research and development at Ahava and also a Kalya resident for
nearly as long as Flexer. “Then we went scientific.”
Maor took The
inside his laboratories, where researchers were mixing various
combinations of apricot, olive and tea tree oils, with minerals from the mud and
saltwater unique to this region.
Meanwhile, visiting customers peered
through glass windows to watch people at work on their favorite creams and
“Cleopatra paid a lot of money to the Hashemite kings to have
exclusive rights to the mud here,” Maor noted, referring to legends that the
Egyptian queen used Dead Sea mud for medicinal purposes.
need to protect the Dead Sea from further damage, Maor said the salty body was
simply “a part of us.”
“We really feel that the world has a treasure and
we are lucky to be able to enjoy and to study it,” Maor said. “I’ve been doing
more than 20 years of research to know how it works, but it has been used by
humans for more than 20 years. [It’s only now that] we have the science to
understand it. We have to do everything to protect this natural
Winning the contest, in Maor’s opinion, could help bring about
that increased protection.
“If the Dead Sea is one of the seven natural
wonders, this would mean that the world has some responsibility to push the
governments of Israel and Jordan to avoid abusing and doing anything that is not
protecting the Dead Sea, and to maintain sustainability,” he said. “We don’t
have much time if every year we lose one meter.”
The local regional
council heads – Motzi Dahaman of Megilot, which borders the sea to the north,
and Dov Litvinoff of Tamar, which lies to the south – have been leading their
communities in massive efforts to get out word about the vote
“For the region, it’s the best opportunity to bring awareness of
the problems of the Dead Sea all around, not only in Israel, but also
internationally, to see what a wonder of nature this place is – but [also] that
we have to do something to preserve this wonder,” Litvinoff told the Post
the phone on Thursday afternoon.
“Today we have about 1.5 million [people
here] a year, and winning this competition will bring people who want to invest
in the area and who want to travel to the region,” he added.
said he believed that the Dead Sea merited one of the coveted seven spots, but
expressed fear that without the New7Wonders logo, the Dead Sea could be
forgotten by government officials.
While tourist Jenny Buck from a
British Franciscan Ecumenical group called the Dead Sea “corrosive” and didn’t
think she would choose the Dead Sea as one of the wonders, other tourists
roaming around the Qumran site gift shop seemed more positive about the
“I’m quite sure it should be [chosen] because it’s the lowest point
in the world,” said Lucas Kai, from Canada, visiting as part of a Bible study
Another member of his tour group, Theresa Ko, added in its favor
that “we can float. Also, God promised at some point that there will be fish in
the Dead Sea.”
Nancy Adams, visiting from Nashville, Tennessee, said her
group’s guide had specifically asked the entire bus to vote for the Dead
“It’s a phenomenon,” she said.
The tourists’ thoughts echoed
Flexer’s words in Kalya.
“There are many reasons why the Dead Sea is
important,” he said.
“It’s the lowest point in the world, it’s the
saltiest water in the world... [and] there is no other place more beautiful than
this one.Until the contest’s conclusion, voters can send SMS messages casting
their ballots for the Dead Sea by texting the words “Dead Sea” in
English, Hebrew or Arabic to the number 2244, or by www.new7wonders.com or www.votedeadsea.com.