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Newsletter 69: The Jews and the desert


Shalom everyone,

Once a year tour guides in Israel undergo a one day refresher course to renew their license as tour guides. It's against the law to guide tourists without a license. Nevertheless if you go to the Jaffa Gate or to David's tomb you'll find several people offering their services as tour guides. If one wants to be guided by a government licensed guide then he should request to see the person's license which every licensed tour guide is expected to display.

The subject of the refresher course which I chose this year was about the fascinating relationship between the desert and the origins of the Jewish People. The lecturer, Uzi Avner is famous for his studies on desert life and the sociology of tribes in the desert and so on. I had done a refresher course several years ago with Uzi in Park Timna and was happy to be listening to him again.

Archaeological research has revealed evidence of a flourishing agricultural society dating back some four to six thousand years in the Uvda Valley in the far southern Negev Desert, where the average annual rainfall is 30 millimeters, the annual evaporation rate is more than 4,500 millimeters, and summer temperatures exceed 105 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to other evidence, the inhabitants left behind many cult sites.

It's clear that any society that can learn to adapt to these harsh conditions is headed for great success and prosperity. The fact that the finds show continuous habitation there for nearly 3000 years is enough proof that they were successful.

60% of the area of the land of Israel is the kind of environment which demands adaptation to harsh climatic condition. The fact that Jewish society flourished in Israel in biblical times shows that it is possible to adapt and survive.

The biblical descriptions of how the desert will flourish appear in the period when the Jewish People achieved its highest level of spiritual and material prosperity in the days of David, Solomon and the later kings of Israel.

Today Israel is again becoming a great nation because it's adapting to the desert and not just being content with living in the easy livable parts such as the Mediterranean coast and the Galilee.

If you want to know the amazing things that are going on in the desert in Israel I suggest you take a look at some videos produced by the Ben Gurion University of the Negev. They are amazing, don't miss them.

You can access these videos by going to the website and clicking on either fish industry in the desert or the farming of water in the desert or pink salmon and green algae and others. I'm sure you'll enjoy these videos.

The Hasmonian period is again a period of Jewish greatness and again we find large, prosperous settlements in the form of 6 cities with populations of more than 50000 people in the desert at this time. The cities weren't Jewish but Nabetean, an early Arab society from which Herod the Great originated.

In a lecture about his book "Herod the persecutor and the persecuted", Prof. Aryeh Kasher told how Herod's family, when Herod was a young child, was absorbed into the Jewish, Hasmonean royal family, as a political maneuver to gain control over the desert cities. Apparantly the Nabetean Arab family, being simple desert people, felt inferior in Jerusalem in the midst of the proud Jewish Hasmonean aristocracy.

When Herod was appointed king of the Jews by the Romans he got his revenge on the Jewish royalty and leadership by demonstrating that he was a better Jew than they by, on the one hand, building the temple and on the other by killing all of the members of the Hasmonean royal family, including his own children, who he considered Jewish royalty being born of his wife Mariamne, a princess of the Hasmonean family and the sages of the Sanhedrin, who had insulted him in his youth.

For a good summary of Herod's life I suggest reading an article by archaeologist, Magen Broshi in Haaretz newspaper. l

Although both Ettie and I love Tel Aviv we usually look for places to go out together in Jerusalem. Monday night, our 27th wedding anniversary was an exception and we celebrated with a romantic meal at Orca, where Avishai is a cook.

Every dish is such a masterpiece of taste and design that one is tempted to keep ordering more. For me it was oyster on ice and the veal on spinach and mashed potatoes, finishing off with the Malabie. For Ettie it was the octopus and the boori ( a kind of fish you find only in Israel) finishing with the cheese cake. With all that and a tasty wine we returned more in love than ever to Jerusalem.

That evening started a habit and even though I had a list of three lectures to attend this evening I neglected them for a movie with Ettie. We saw Michael Crayton, a great movie, full of action.

Wishing you a great no news day

Yours truly.


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