Let’s vacation – Apart!

9 Oct

Hamat Gader Hot Springs

We’re vacationing at Hamat Gader, a hot springs paradise in the Jordan Valley, a 40-minute drive from our home in Kfar Tavor, Galilee.  The physical scenery is striking: A shear volcanic cliff hangs overhead.  Against it, palm and date trees sway in the breeze.  The smell of sulfur spewing from deep within the earth and into the hot pools, the smell of rotten eggs, smacks your nose the moment you enter the retreat.

The human scenery is equally striking:  Russians are everywhere.  If it’s Tuesday, it must be the Russians, Wednesday, the Israeli-born, Friday, the Arabs.  Which is to say, people here know when to go as much as when not to go.

It’s also a question of where.  They (choose your-flavor-of-the-month Israeli) don’t want to be seen with “other” Israelis.  During this endless Holiday season between Rosh Hashanna and Sukkot–about three weeks–Israelis are itching to get out of the kitchen and into retreats, nature reserves, and Bed & Breakfast in Galilee.

There are unspoken rules but everyone knows them.  Secular Israelis don’t want to share the rubber rafts with orthodox Jews on the calm waters of the Jordan River.  They would rather canoe with their own kind rather than share the waters with the “religious.”  Which is why secular Israelis vacation on Saturday while the Orthodox are observing the Sabbath.

The orthodox Jews during the Holiday “weekdays” come in droves.  Buses unload hundreds.  They tour the hot spots of Tiberias, Galilee and the Golan Heights.

The secular Jews and the Arabs know the drill — they keep away.

Sahneh Nature Reserve

Arabs on Friday, after their prayers, pack up and head to Sahneh, a beautiful natural pool and spring waters at the foot of Mt. Gilboa.  The Arabs come prepared with ice chests, blankets, and large families.  They run the place.  Here’s the headcount:  Arabs: a lot.  Jews: near none.

Back to Hamat Gader where I arrange my towel over a chair and gaze at the Russian Jews.  Many are from Ukraine, but somehow they’re all bundled as “Russians,” part of the nearly 1 million who’d immigrated to Israel in the 90s.  They’re sitting in large Jacuzzis, hot, sulfuric waters bouncing off their backs and shoulders, as if they’re still vacationing in a spa-sanatorium in Odessa.  Older men are playing chess.  Babushkas are giggling in the water.

Younger women in small bikinis hit the showers.  No orthodox Jews here.  No Arabs.

Healing Properties of Hot Spring

It’s nightfall and we’re heading out.  A large sign lists the healing properties of the waters.  The sulfur and heat are a cure-all to: high blood pressure, muscle pain, inflammation, skin rashes, burning calories, digestive problems, fertility issues (?), urinary tract infections, and, quote, “mental pressure.”

The sign says the waters burble up from a depth of 6000 feet (!) at a constant year-round temperature.  Even 2000 years ago legions and emperors came to splash in the pools.

I go out the gate and into the parking lot.  Mostly Hondas and Toyotas, no chariots.   Today must be the Romans’ day off.


5 Responses to “Let’s vacation – Apart!”

  1. Mark October 9, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    Hysterical ending to a fun-filled holiday! Facebook Emperor Vespasian about your experience. He must be on his iPad, somewhere.

  2. Meg October 10, 2012 at 12:54 am #

    LOVED your commentary on “who’s day is is anyway”.
    FYI: chariots are drafty, dusty and they need shock absorbers! [hahahohohehe]

  3. Vanessa Labi October 11, 2012 at 6:37 am #

    Hahaha – “mental pressure.”

    How interesting that the division is so palpable. Seems like there was some fascinating people-watching indeed!


  4. pninalavi October 12, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    I was there, I must say It did relieve some of my mental pressure…

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