If Israel is the epicenter of world religion, then the Carmel, sometimes called the “Little Switzerland of Israel,” is the country’s center of New Age. Standing on stilts and seeming to hang off the green mountainside is Kibbutz Beit Oren, a focal point for the festivals, meditation sessions and other activities that go on in the Carmel. A bare five-minute drive away is Prison 6, lit a haunting yellow at night, which has the same spectacular view of the forest and the sea, though I doubt the inmates can see over the walls.
One of the biggest New Age festivals held here is called Osho Israel, and is based on the teachings of Osho, one of the myriad Indian gurus who found a following in the West. Occasionally known by the moniker “the Sex Guru,” Osho’s sojourn in the United States ended in arrest and exile after a salmonella attack on the Oregon food supply. It’s unclear what became of his collection of 93 Rolls-Royce automobiles. But his good works live on, including the festival, which focuses on bringing awareness into one’s life. Between 500 and 1,000 people are expected to attend the mid-July weekend event, which runs three days and involves workshops on meditation, relations and self-growth during the day, and celebrations at night. Kohra Yuaval, founder of Osho Israel, maintains that the guru “was controversial, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t do good.” And if the festival’s popularity is any indicator, I’ll agree. 052-888-3040. If you’re into purifying your spirit and you like it hot, try the Indian Sweat Lodge. In a canvas-wrapped tent built of branches, small enough that you can’t stand, 10 to 20 people sit in a circle in the dark around volcanic stones, heated to a burning red, sweating, singing, and chanting “yana oweii neigh yana heyana yo wei” in the sweltering heat.“Sweat lodge is a special ceremony that comes from Native Americans,” says Medur Triber, lodge leader. “The idea behind the ceremony is a purification of the body, getting rid of toxins and waste, and also purifying the mind and spirit, realizing our power from within.” Some say they feel born again when they emerge from the tent. 054-637-3597. To realize your inner power in a less physical but more mentally intense environment, try psychodrama. Shay Mashiach is a psychodrama instructor, performing therapy in the Carmel on weekends. Psychodrama involves dramatizing and acting out issues in participants’ lives. “If a participant has trouble with women, or with fulfillment at work,” says Mashiach, “we’ll build him a stage on which his dreams have come true. Perhaps it will come out that in his childhood, people told him he wasn’t good enough. So we’ll go back to his childhood on stage, and with other participants we’ll see if he can stand up as a child and build his courage and self confidence.” Mashiach’s sessions are quite popular, with perhaps 30 turning out on weekends, and more at his classes in Tel Aviv. For info: email@example.com, 050-560-9696. More tranquil options are available as well. Rafik Yedidjah moved from festival production to isolation retreats, and currently runs a small guest house called Dharmshala. “The idea is that you come, you take a room for four days; you can bring books, music, write,” he explains. “It’s not a workshop. It’s ongoing. If you want to meditate, do it. If you want to write, do it. You can just be and nobody will interfere.” 050-577-7782. For the ultimate in silent treatment, Vipassana Israel offers a 10-day meditation course conducted in absolute silence. Yedidjah says that “after three days, people go crazy, but after five, they begin to see the light.” Consider this getting off easy, since traditional Vipassana courses lasted 49 days. The Vipassana Israel Web site lists the course as free, donation optional, and states that instructors do not receive payment for their training. (03) 612-3822. Another well-known festival hosted at Beit Oren is the Shakti women’s festival, which celebrates all things feminine. Shakti is the personification of feminine power in Hinduism, and is also called the “Great Divine Mother.” The festival focuses on healing, love, joy and awakening womanhood. It lasts three days and three nights in June, and over 1,000 women will experience ceremonies, dancing, singing, and art. “It’s a women’s celebration,” says marketing manager Anat Ben Kiki. “To be the queen, to feel free, sitting together, talking; it’s a creation.” Leave the husband at home, though, as no men are allowed. 052-367-7373. Men, if you’re feeling snubbed by your wives and want to experience some gender-specific healing of your own, try the Shiva men’s group, which focuses on male energy and finding your inner man. Ofir Oren runs two events a year – winter and summer – attended by some 50-100 men who return to their primordial roots and rediscover what it is to be male. It can get quite intense. Reports of crying and connecting with one’s raw emotions reminds me of the ending of Walk on Water. To discover your inner Ayal, look up the group. And this one’s for men only. 054-447-0371. For other extraordinary, exclusionary activities look no further than Isrotel’s famed Carmel Forest Spa, undoubtedly the most commercial and luxurious aspect of the New Age in the Carmel. The spa combines nature’s harmony with gourmet natural foods, spacious lodgings and 27 spa-treatment rooms offering massage, aromatherapy, and hydrotherapy, to name but a few. It claims to be the largest spa in the Middle East, and offers tranquility for the well to do. No cell phones or children allowed. Expect a two-night, all-inclusive weekend stay to cost about NIS 5,000. (04) 830-7878. A few shekels short of a room at the Forest Spa? For acloser-to-nature experience, seek out various campgrounds in theCarmel. The Mishmar Hacarmel overnight grounds, for instance, featurebathrooms, picnic tables, showers – even some classrooms and kitchenfacilities. Cost is NIS 50. For an even cheaper, closest-to-natureexperience, pick a spot in the woods and set down your sleeping bag.For more info: www.parks.org.il or
For a middle-ground accommodation, somewhere betweensleeping bag and spa, you can try Kibbutz Beit Oren as a base for yourstay. They rent out a good-sized room with an ocean view, right in themiddle of the forest. Expect about NIS 600 a night over the weekend.(04) 830-7444. Whatever your New Age preference, you can come and discover it in theCarmel. Alternatively, you can try sleeping in the sweat lodge. Yanaoweii neigh heyana...