Dear friends,

I’ve been in Israel for a week, and after dealing with some computer drama (Read: flying here is a trip in itself…) I’m glad to say that I am slowly starting to adjust and let the sweat run off my back, quite literally. It’s hot here. But it’s also magnificent.

To make a long story short, the airline wouldn’t let me take my laptop with me, and after many tears and much paperwork, I’ve decided to forget about it and enjoy my time in Israel without an electronic appendage. It’s been strangely liberating so far. But I did want to update all of you who might be wondering what I’ve been doing this past week! I’ll sum up in a few words: learning Hebrew and getting sun-tanned. But here’s something I’ll share about a hike my group took yesterday to Maktesh Ramon. My sense of time and calendars has gone completely out the window…

The first week of Ulpan is complete. I can say happily now that I know more Hebrew than I hever have before, although my knowledge of Hebrew before this trip was nonexistant. I still don’t understand it, but it’s becoming more familiar to me, slowly, like this country. I still don’t know my way around Be’er-Sheva (seven wells, if you were wondering), but I know my way around campus, vaguely, and my stomach (and heart) are both finally beginning to settle.

Our group went to Maktesh Ramon last night. “Maktesh” is the Hebrew word for “natural crater”–there is no English word for this. The crater, layered with black and red and yellow sand, was formed over thousands of yeras by rain and limestone eroding and folding over to expose the deep, hollow crater. According to our OSP “Mama” Sarah, the sight also contained volcanic activity, which explains the red sand (boy I wish I could show you a picture…)

The crater was also home to the ancient Nabatean tribes, who traveled in the 5th century BC from Saudia Arabia (approx.) to Europe to trade spices and incense. They were the only ones who knew how to navigate the Negev. After traveling 30 km in one day (on camel), they would rest in one of their homes built along the path–made of sandstone, one remains today in pieces. The whole trip took four months.

We passed these ruins on the way down the crater. Our hike was short, which was fortunate, because the sun was quickly setting behind us. And when she did–OH those mountain peaks!!!!! Glowing gold embers: majesty. I see now why Abraham found God here.

The Hebrew word for “desert” comes from the verb “medeberet” (aprox.) which means “to speak.” When you walk in the desert, your heart speaks. When Abraham walked here, God spoke to him. The desert is remarkably quiet if you listen to it, and it is remarkably loud if you speak to it.

After our hike came dinner– a feast called “poike,” which is a stew cooked over a big open campfire in a large Macbeth-style cauldron. Root vegetables, chicken, rice, lentils, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper, along with carefully stoked coals, was all it took to make this feast, perfect for hungry and weary twenty-somethings. While we waited to eat, the stars came out to play. I’ve never in my life seen the milky way, but there it was, center stage, complete with shooting and twinkling stars.

Another treat was this:  

A triangular miracle. The top “star” is actually Mars; the bottom right one is Saturn, and the bottom left is the galaxy Spica. GALAXY! Holy cow. This was incredible to behold with my own eyes; never has the sky opened itself up so intimately to me…I felt like I was alone with the universe.
Suffice it to say I’m having a great time. And learning lots of Hebrew! It’s funny how cultural immersion forces you to go back to the very beginning, tracing letters and learning alphabets as if you were a child. I think we could all do for some more childlike exploration 🙂
All my love,


  1. Katharine says:

    Thank you for posting! It must have taken some effort since you were forced to travel without your laptop. I love your description of the desert and its silence paired with its “speaking” to your heart as well. The Maktesh sounds amazing – I looked up images (one link below) and indeed it is stunning in that lunar landscape type way that I also only ever found in the Israeli desert. What an extraordinary people the Nabateans must have been. Do they have descendants in this time (perhaps some Bedouin tribe)? And how wonderfully beautiful you could be there at night and see the universe. What a mind-heart-eye-soul expanding one-day journey!


    I am looking forward to reading more about your Israeli adventures and discoveries. Thank you, again! Love, Auntie Katharine


  2. Emily says:

    Wow Mel, how cool!! Yes, thank you so much for posting. It's so awesome for those of us back home to follow your travels vicariously through your blog. Are you going to be able to post pictures without a laptop? If so, I can't wait to see them!!

    Love you and miss you –

    Love, Em


  3. Auntie Katherine,

    We passed a lot of Bedouin communities on our drive down to Maktesh, so it wouldn't surprise me…

    Em, I think so but it will take a lot of time, so I might not be able to do it that frequently…


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