IN ADDITION TO the bustling shuk (market), floating in the Dead Sea, visiting Yad Vashem, the Western Wall, touring the old city of Jerusalem, and exploring other well-known sites, our group was fortunate to go to seldom visited places as well.
Our tour guide lived on Kibbutz Almog, located near the Dead Sea, that he and a group of friends began 30 years ago. Its primary product was dates which were packaged locally and sold abroad. One day, he brought recently harvested and packaged dates; I have never been a fan of the fruit, but after eating these, I became one. His kibbutz also offered tourists modest accommodations at a reasonable rate as another source of income.
Kibbutzim rely on many sources for income. Kibbutz Hamat Gader Spa offers bathing in natural Roman hot springs and a massage. This was surely a welcome pause in our hectic schedule. After soaking in one of the many hot springs, I was escorted into a darkened lightly scented room for a truly wonderful massage. My masseur was a Russian immigrant who had made what he called a “very good life here.” I think I fell asleep and hoped I didn’t snore.
One of the most memorable visual delights was our visit to the Ein Gedi Botanical Gardens located within Kibbutz Ein Gedi. It is a natural desert oasis minutes away from Israel’s famous attractions at the Dead Sea and Masada. The kibbutz was founded in 1953 and was named after the Biblical Ein Gedi which served as one of the main places of refuge for David as he fled from Saul around 10,000 BCE. It served as a water source in Joshua 15:62 and 1Samuel 23:1-2.
Ein Gedi is located on the Dead Sea’s western shore, and as an oasis has waterfalls, pools of water and two large streams. There are wonderful hiking trails where one can see beautiful foliage, exotic birds and a range of wildlife. (We were too tired to hike up to the waterfall. Next time!)
As it states on their website, “It is the only botanical garden in the world that integrates the homes of residents of the surrounding community. The garden joined the register of the Botanic Gardens Conservation International in 1994, and today is recognized by the National Geographic Society as ‘the 11th wonder of the world.’”
“More than 900 species of plants from various regions of the world have been planted and flourished here. This was brought about through the vision, persistence and hard work of the founders and sons of the Kibbutz.”
Our guide had been one of the original founders of the garden and knew every tree, plant, shrub and flower. One could easily forget that you were in the desert. I have always loved gardens and longed to just sit on one of the benches and breathe in the fragrance of the entire flora and immerse myself in the beauty of the surroundings.
I want my next trip to Israel to include a longer stay at this glorious place and experience not just the gardens but the waterfalls and perhaps a stay at the Ein Gedi Hotel and maybe even enjoy their spa!
Rabbi Florence L. Dann, has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004