the judean desert
city of palms 825 ft below sea level
photo from bibleplaces.com
may 16, ‘99
the dead sea
sholom all you baby boomers, ex-hippies, and wannabe members of the peace & love generation,
WOODSTOCK LIVES! in israel. on the dead sea. in the judean desert. near joshua's holy walls of jericho. from 1-8 am on a friday night/saturday morning shabbat. without another living thing within unknown countless crumbling clay parched miles. with blaring techno/trance music, day-glow green juggling balls, fire-lit twirling balance sticks, and beautiful israeli kibbutzniks (20 year old joyous kids) ecstasy-ing their brains out, dancing past dawn until the police come by three hours after a glorious and holy sunrise and a caravan of partiers disappear as magically as they appeared into the salty hot haze of morning. the only difference (between woodstock and raves in the judean desert) -- 30 years, a different drug of choice, designer clothes, and a new campsite.
of course, it helps one to live more fully with the compression of geography and the potential explosion of politics, religion, and war as a daily reality….
anyway, to back track a bit. after my second full day of katzir, leacock, and cultural anthropologizing, benny, my german pal via LA and berlin, on his own cerebral/torah track, is struck by inspiration. he has found out about a rave on the dead sea via a record store on sheinkin. now i've never been to a rave. even in LA. or anywhere for that matter. i've heard about them though - these all-night techno dance extravaganzas out in the middle of nowhere, preferably a desert, or perhaps some cavernous, red-lit club in the trendiest part of berlin or london, hundreds of young wide-eyed revelers partying their brains out on ecstasy, dancing frenetically until dawn to trance, house, or trip-hop music, until exhausted, sliding home in their beamers or RAV-4s back to their middle-class, privileged, and teenage lives. oh yeah, this was something i had to see and experience first hand.
so here we are - lost in the judean desert. it's one thirty in the morning, and we've been winding back and forth on these same dirt roads above the dead sea for at least an hour. we seem to be the only car out here - about ten kilometers east and ten kilometers south of jericho. we're looking for signs -- not from god, but from the ravers who are supposed to have left them along the side of the road. that's the way it's done - you don't give out directions beforehand - no, that way the cops find out and you get busted. no, you leave - signs. along the side of the road. in the general vicinity...
so? where are they? we don't see any. benny is like a tomahawk missile though, looking for his destination. he has out his maps, his compass, his strap-on flashlight. i've given up. we've got the wrong night - or - the ravers have canceled at the last minute because – well - just because. benny takes out his cell phone. (when in israel, you Have to have a cell phone.) "it's not canceled," he beams, "there's a recording. it says it's on. just follow the signs." great. we wander another half hour, a little like moses and the lost tribes of israel looking for the promised land. (this is the place after all - jericho, the river jordan, the judean desert.) finally, we see another pair of headlights. we let them creep up next to us, and i roll down my passenger window, "do you speak english?" "yeah, no problem." "is there a party tonight," benny yells from his pilot's seat, using the correct terminology i presume. "yeah, no problem. follow us," the driver says. it's a sign. we follow.
we crawl another mile or two in our "trancemobile", and then out of the thin high desert air comes - faintly at first - but then louder and more clearly as we approach - the unmistakable throb of the blaring electronic music. somehow, unbeknownst to us, about three hundred ravers have already gathered here, apparently following their own signs, under the dark judean sky, checkered with diamond stars, on a night probably not unlike another night almost two thousand years ago when well-armed roman soldiers brutally massacred about a hundred stiff-necked jews hopelessly defending themselves in the nearby desert cliffs at masada. but tonight, the desert is alive with the boundless energy of young israeli kids, who, lit up themselves on their own combustible ingestibles, are now dancing to the ecstatic beat of their own private idahos.
the thing that strikes me most though is how beautiful looking these young ravers are, and how free they are with their bodies. maybe it's the inter-breeding, the mixed marriages of so many different cultures - mideastern, european, north african - but the bodies, the faces, are so sensual looking, so passionate, healthy and alive. and the dancing is no club-crowded indoor disco dancing where the bridge & tunnel girls and the stiff yuppie-to-be boys just robotically move their feet back and forth to the beat. no, these kids are into the music - creative, funny, imaginative - unique. not that anyone's dancing with anyone else - they're not - but the night, the drug, the music - all of it - is setting them free.
i imagine these young israelis as the kids of my baby boom generation, having grown up on kibbutzim, learning the communal hard work ethic, milking goats, plowing earth, seeing friends die in the army, defending their land. but now, with communes and socialism fading quickly into the collective past, and with the wide eyes of opportunity lusting after the american dream of independence, wealth, and individuality, the youth of israel is raving on, expressing itself - expressing themselves - as if for the very first time. and that's what is remarkable about tonight - besides the vastness of the sky and desert, beyond the artificial ecstasy of the drug, in spite of my not really feeling a part of it - it's the vitality and beauty of the kids, these blond, supple, dark-haired youth of israel - with hope in their hearts, passion in their eyes, ideas in their heads, and peace as their priority. yes, woodstock lives. and yes, i still do remember max yasgur's little farm in upstate new york... 1969.
dead sea coast
by four a.m., with the music still raging, every red-amber hill-top surrounding the sight is dotted with ravers, all waiting for one of the event's main attractions, the spectacular rise of the sun over the dead sea from the jordanian horizon. i climb one of the smaller peaks, still feeling like a stranger in a strange land. there's something so incongruous about this clash of cultural anthropology -- that here in this almost perfectly painted ancient biblical site, in the very footsteps of moses' appointed heir, joshua, leading the long-suffering jews out of the desert into the promised land, that here, over three millennium later, are these modern-day tribal youth of the children of israel, descendants all of their biblical fore-fathers, now creating rituals and worshipings of their own, wearing arab kaffias on their heads, dancing to music made by computer chips and electronic keyboards that couldn't even have been dreamed of - or fantasized about - when this same jordanian sun rose over this same salty sea so many hundreds of generations ago.
dead sea canyon
and the sunrise does not disappoint us. and the djs keep cranking out the music, pumping still more energy into these tireless, beautiful kids. until finally, at 8:30 in the morning, there are suddenly three carloads of israeli police pushing their way onto the site, rounding us up into our cars, politely but vigorously putting an end to this throbbing and unforgettable night.
benny and i spill out onto the main road running north and south along the resplendent dead sea. this time it takes us only about ten minutes to find it in the harsh, hot glare of daylight. i want to go south to ein gedi and masada; benny wants to go back north to a bedouin tent near jericho and sleep the day away. his idea sounds great, but i have to be back in tel aviv by noon to meet my “servas”* host for the next two nights. there's no way to please us both. benny's the red baron and captain of our ship, me, i'm the lowly passenger. so -- we compromise: no trip south, just a brisk dip in the salty sea for me, a quick nap in the tent for him, and then - adios to the raving, biblical desert.
salty dead sea
what can one say about the dead sea? it's salty, right? very salty. so salty that you can sit up and read a newspaper in it. so salty that every cut and nick on your entire body, particularly the ones you didn't know existed, all stand up and scream in saline protest. so salty, that after you get out of this huge, stinking, sulphurous bathtub, reeking of these infamously marketed “dead sea salts", you absolutely swear that you will never go in this better-seen-than-swum-in sinkhole for the rest of your born days. especially when the barometer's climbing upwards to 105 fahrenheit, and the air is so humidly oppressive, and the sulfur salt is coating your skin so heavily that it can't breathe, and the rotten-egg smell is so stifling and pervasive that even the mighty mercedes is stuck in a sandy rut and is sending up the white flag of surrender. not that you shouldn't partake. i mean, you have to. it's the friggin' dead sea. lowest point on the planet. joshua, moses, the goddam bible –
photo from http://www.jericho-city.org/historical.html
so, you do what you have to do -- but just once.
to be continued....