At the beginning of this year I started a touring group of people from my community. What I had observed is probably what happens in most communities in the world. People do not explore their own backyards – sites near their home are not seen as “destinations” and thus are not visited. People who live in New York do not visit the Statue of Liberty, Pittsburghers do not ride the Incline (I lived there for 12 years and never took the time to ride this city’s #1 Tourist attraction), people who live in the suburbs of Jerusalem don’t take their children to the Western Wall.
My idea is to get people to explore the neighborhood – especially since Israel provides such interesting sites close to home. Whether one has been living in the Modiin area for a month or 10 years, everyone gets stuck in ruts of places they go and sites they see. I offer once a month a trip to see “Places in Your Neighborhood” that they may have not explored recently or at all. Every month we visit a place that is approximately 1 hour from Modiin on a Sunday morning. The goal is to leave after the kids go to school and get back in time to pick them up after school. Since there is a good-sized population of people who work American hours or have flexible schedules, Sunday is a more free day.
Thus, this month I planned to take two different groups on two subsequent Sundays to Lido Cafe, Qumran and Einot Tzukim on the northern shore of the Dead Sea. The first trip went off just beautiful – we enjoyed lovely weather and had a great time. Of the 15 people in the group, no one had been to any of the three sites in the Northern Dead Sea area that we visited that morning. Perfect! The trip fulfilled my goals and everyone had a good time.
This morning’s trip, however, went slightly differently. The entire country has been experiencing a very rainy winter, thank G-d. And the past week has been especially rainy, even snowy in parts of the Golan Heights. The weekend was blustery, windy and cold. I was hoping that the weather around the Dead Sea would be o.k. for touring, but as Saturday night turned to Sunday I saw that it was raining even there!
The Dead Sea only has 6 days a year of more than 1 mm rain. Average rainfall is around 50 mm, making the Dead Sea area an extreme desert according to precipitation. (The area is much more lush than your average extreme desert because of the possibility of flash floods from rains falling to the east of Jerusalem and Hebron and due to the existence of springs in the area.)
Even a small amount of rain, though, wreaks havoc with the ability of the plumbing in the Dead Sea area to function. Combined with the fear of flash floods causing damage to sites and danger to visitors, the National Park Service occasionally closes its parks in the area. Roads sometimes are closed. We are lucky enough to enjoy a rainy winter this year, and the Dead Sea today was “Closed for Business”, causing my Places in Your Neighborhood trip to be pushed off until next week.
The High Priest says on Yom Kippur when asking for rains for the coming year, that G-d should not listen to the prayers of travellers. Although I really hoped to be able to go to the Dead Sea today to guide, I am secretly happy that G-d didn’t listen to the prayers of Tour Guides today, either.