Eilat Experience by the Bercovs

Hello from Eilat by Ron and Marcia Bercov – Edmonton, Canada
We arrived in Eilat on Friday afternoon, greeted by sunshine and warm temperatures. Checking your atlas, you’ll find Eilat at the southernmost tip of the country, on the Red Sea. Many tourists from Europe travel to enjoy a week in the warm weather here, along with others from exotic places who pass through on their way to Jerusalem. My name for Eilat is “Las Vegas by-the-Sea” for its large and beautiful luxury hotels and elegant shops. But there’s much more to Eilat, much to see in the desert country which surrounds it, including many archeological sites. As the CAARI group does on a regular basis, some of us volunteered on Sunday morning to help out at Beit Refael, a centre which serves meals to people in need, some of them homeless. Zili Grossmann, who at one time owned a boutique in Eilat, has devoted the past 14 years establishing this haven and working hard to help the people who come there. She and her volunteer crew, an interesting group too, serve a hot lunch to about 100 people every day at noon except Saturday, the Sabbath. Before that, in the morning, they prepare and deliver 500 sandwiches to school children in the area. At 1:00 p.m. another group of people come to get food for their families for supper. This food arrives in a truck around 12:30 p.m. and comes from hotels in the area. The food is good and fresh, and if not for volunteers in this organization, would be thrown away instead of being used to feed the hungry. A word about the volunteers: one gentleman who does the driving to pick up and deliver food, comes from Amsterdam and spends part of the year in Eilat. The lady who helped serve the meal comes originally from Ireland, but lives in Eilat now. She volunteers at Beit Refael two days a week, and in a hospital for two days each week as well.
Moving on to other things, on Monday evening Noam Meshe came to speak to our group about the marine environment in the Eilat area. He explained that the ecosystems in the Red Sea are very fragile and have suffered damage in the past. As four countries share this area (Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia) they also share the responsibility. Happily, some organizations now exist to reverse the damage from years past, and to research how to maintain the best conditions to protect this area. For example, there are the Coral Reef Initiative and the Red Sea Marine Peace Park. Until recently the fishing industry used fish cages to raise fish for food, but the cages have all been removed to improve the condition of the sea.
One evening this week our group took a sunset cruise on the Red Sea. We sat on board the Oriana, a three masted schooner built in 1920 and refurbished in 1962, and watched the cities of Eilat and Aqaba drift by. A number of wind surfers were on the water as well, with their colorful sails. The crew served a most delicious dinner to everyone, followed by some dancing on the deck.
Another adventure last week, a hike in Timna Park, site of ancient copper mines. We saw some spectacular desert landscapes and felt a great sense of accomplishment after navigating through the rough, hilly, rocky areas. Some passages were so narrow and steep that we slid down, carefully, of course. Neil, our knowledgeable guide, explained about the desert landscape and showed us acacia trees and caper plants, and how they adapted to the lack of water. He also guided us on another short hike up a hill where we saw an ancient Egyptian inscription carved into the rock face.
On another morning we toured Evrona Farms, which looked nothing like a farm as we know it. This was in a desolate, dry, rocky area, with not a plant anywhere around. But, somehow, ancient peoples knew how to find the water deep underground and channel it to an area with mineral rich sand.They grew enough food to feed thousands of people, and provided food for the many travellers who passed that way. Their water system was based on gravity, and they even fashioned crude valves to control the flow. Neil showed us a square reservoir which held water, and, scratching through the gravel on the bottom, he held up a small shell of a snail which could only live in fresh water. The proof!
Another excursion took us to Kibbutz Lotan, started by a group of Reform Jews 25 years ago. The philosophy of this kibbutz concerns sustainable development and it houses the Center for Creative Ecology, where groups of students come to learn about the environment and work together. Other young people from Israel spend a year doing their National Service there, before going into the army. The kibbutz buildings are adobe with solar power, and there is a system to purify waste water for agriculture. Fences and even a children’s playground were constructed using old tires, a creative use of material which would only be relegate to the landfill. Of course, they were covered in adobe and painted with bright colors. I’ve got the pictures to prove it! The kibbutz has cows and produces milk, and very good chocolate milk we’re told, as well as dates.
As always, there’s much more to say, but this will be all for the moment.
We leave for the Dead Sea on Sunday, with more adventures there.
Take care.
Best wishes and shalom,
Marcia and Ron

Hello again,
My last note left everyone stranded in the desert. In truth, that’s not such a bad place, considering what people in Israel have built in this challenging environment. One example, Kibbutz Grofit, was founded in the late 1960s. Now it grows field crops, manufactures zip lock plastic bags as its light industry, and serves as a repair depot for trucks. But this remarkable place is also home to the Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center. As the only place of its kind in this part of the country, it serves some 200 children with varying disabilities and gives them so much more than a simple ride on a horse. The Center has psychologists and other specially trained staff who plan the children’s therapy and aid them on their weekly rides. Results have been truly amazing, including an example of an aphasic child, that is without speech, who started making sounds and eventually developed some speech. Ellen Reisel, the supervising psychologist, said thatnobody really understands the process or why it works, but that there must be some kind of connection between the movement of the child on the horse and the result of sound and speech. Some riders have more body strength, but others need three helpers, one to guide the horse and one on each side for support. Sometimes volunteers fill some of these roles. Special saddles allow some children to ride in a reclining position. By the way, the horses are born and trained at Grofit, and the process takes eight years. During the course of our visit, Grofit honoured a member of our group, the amazing Nettie (also known as Computer Nettie), 92 years young, a fireball from Montreal. At the end of our visit, everyone gathered around to help plant a tree in her name, to recognize her support of Grofit. Many of us, including Nettie herself, shoveled some soil around the sapling till it stayed firmly upright and looked comfortable in its new home. And the variety? A kumquat! A few days later Nettie’s daughter, Joni, who was accompanying her on part of the trip, found some real kumquats in the market, so Nettie knows firsthand what kind of fruit her tree will produce in a few years. (now we like to call her Kumquat Nettie)

Moving right along, not necessarily in order (!) our group also went for a hike in Red Canyon, driving there by following the road of the Haj, the way of Muslim pilgrims on their way to Mecca. This was another hike through rugged mountains and canyons created by water, though all was completely dry at this time. The inclines were so steep that there were metal bars pounded into the rock for climbing aids going up or down, rather like individual rungs of a ladder on alternate sides of the narrow passages. Toward the end of the hike, we were overtaken on the path by a class of school children on a weekend trip from an Arab Christian school outside of Haifa. I noticed a guard with a rifle who accompanied the group. Neil, our guide, explained that the Ministry of Education required two guards with two long barreled weapons along with a licensed medic and medical kit for all school groups on tours. The ruling came in 1997 after some girls were killed whileon a school trip. Senseless tragedy…After the hike, we continued driving along the Egyptian border making a stop at Border Stone 82, a short distance away from where an Egyptian guard sat in his watchtower. There are some 91 Border Stones, but only four of them are located at actual crossings. The school group also stopped there for their look at the stone and presumably a short history lesson. Then our two groups moved on…More to say, of course, (always more!) so the next installment will cover the final part of our CAARI adventure.
Shalom and best wishes,
Marcia and Ron

The Canadian American Active Retirees in Israel, CAARI, offers active seniors a unique opportunity to experience Israel. The program is designed to explore the biblical landscapes, follow the footsteps of the early pioneers, and envision the future of our Homeland. The CAARI Program includes community service, toursa speakers forum and the camaraderie of the CAARI Family. The Program is designed for to feel, touch, hear and see Israel from the mountains to the desert, from sea to sea, and from ancient to modern.

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Links: Jewish National Fund USA : https://www.jnf.org/