In case I haven’t made it clear enough already, it pains me that we don’t have an oven. Especially because it’s the Fourth of July and patriotic desserts are incredibly fun to make.
Last year I made red, white, and blue whoopee pies for our celebration.
This year, I went on a safari trip through the desert.
Obviously, America’s Independence Day is no big deal in Israel. Sure, there were some American bars that had all-day drunken celebrations, as well as Israeli bars catering to US tourists today.
But since I’m here living in Israel, I decided to spend the Fourth like a true Israeli and pretty much ignore the fact that everyone at home is watching fireworks, barbequeing, and making smores (AKA all of my favorite things).
The Onward program plans several tiyulim, or day trips, for us while we’re here. These include activities in Haifa, Jerusalem, and Sderot, among others. However, there was no planned trip to the Dead Sea or Masada.
I’ve climbed Masada twice, and I was thrilled to see I wouldn’t have to climb it again. However, when I started planning a day trip to the Dead Sea, it was nearly impossible to find one that didn’t include climbing Masada.
Eventually Noah, Jared, and I settled on the Bein Harim Judean Desert Safari and Dead Sea tour. Let’s put it this way: my dad would have loved it and my mom would have hated it.
The tour was incredible, to say the least. Definitely outside of my comfort zone, but isn’t that where all exciting things happen?
Our day started off with a bus ride to pick up others in Jerusalem, and then we traveled south and the three of us were dropped off at the side of the road opposite the Dead Sea, where we were met by a Bedouin man and his trusty (?!) twenty-year-old Land Rover.
The four of us spent three hours maneuvering the vehicle through rough patches of rocks and narrow passageways that I honestly didn’t think we would make it out of. I was positive that the car was going to tip over (more than once) when we found ourselves practically parallel to the “road” or on the edge of a cliff.
Periodically, our guide would stop and teach us about different plants and the ways that the Bedouin people use them. (In case you haven’t had interactions with Bedouin people before, they’re groups of Arab nomads who live and travel throughout the desert.)
I was enthralled by the way our guide knew the land, even though everything around us looked exactly the same: rocks, shrubs, and mountains as far as the eye could see. He had an incredibly keen eye for animal tracks and would stop the car and outline the faint tracks for us in the sand.
As he showed us different plants and animals, our guide also told the stories that went along with them.
Take this one, for example: scorpions are commonly found in the desert. Their bites can be deadly, so to strengthen their children’s immunity against the venom, Bedouin mothers burn scorpions, crush them, and add the powder to breastmilk when feeding their newborns. Much like the way a vaccine works, now the venom from a future scorpion bite won’t be deadly for the child.
We were shown a plant with little white berries full of water that our ancestors used to clean the dirt and sand from their eyes, as well as a plant that, when mixed with water, had soap-like qualities that could clean your hands and body or that of your animals. We also tasted a salty green plant that is used to improve the life of those with diabetes.
Don’t worry, I saved the best for last. The most shocking fact of the day: the biblical phrase “the land of milk and honey” didn’t actually refer to literal milk and honey. Instead, it referred to milk and the sweetness of dates. So yeah, no honeybees in ancient Israel.
Happy 4th of July to everyone in the States and happy birthday to Papa!