Our Chanukah break is coming up soon, and I’ve been considering what sites in Israel I’d like to visit in my precious free time. Traveling to Rosh HaNikra and Haifa during our last holiday break whetted my appetite for adventuring throughout Israel. Perhaps I’ll take a bus up to Tzfat (I love its gentle atmosphere), or travel to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, which I’ve only had the opportunity to visit once. The ancient ruins at Caesarea also call to me – I’ve not seen them as an adult, and I’d love to walk along the aqueduct! Israel abounds in historic and natural landmarks, and I am excited to discover them. I’ve been to Israel many times because my (mother’s) family lives here, but there is so much to see that I haven’t seen, and there’s so much I’ve seen that I’d like to see again! The landscapes of Israel truly excite my heart and imagination in a very intimate way.
At Pardes, we students spend most of our time studying in the Beit Midrash so our recent mid-November Negev Desert hiking tiyul was a very special treat for us. Further, in contemplating potential adventure destinations for myself in Israel, I’d never once considered hiking through the Negev – I’d never heard anybody speak of this as a possibility! I’d been to Masada, and I’d been to the Dead Sea, and I’d been to Ein Gedi… but I’d never hiked along Israel’s rough desert paths until Pardes granted me this unique opportunity.
Do you know what a makhtesh is? It’s a geological land formation, unique to the Negev Desert, which looks like a crater… but isn’t actually a crater. Makhteshim occur naturally, as soft sandstone within mountains erodes away, drained by wadis. On the second day of our tiyul, some of us hiked around the Makhtesh Katan, scrambling to maintain our footing on the loose pebbles along the hiking path, jagged rocks on either side of us. Who knew that Israel was home to such a harsh, breathtaking landscape? It was stunning!!
Our tour guide Dan Ofri is one of the premier Negev Desert guides, and we were tremendously lucky to have him guiding us. His insights and expertise brought colors and nuances to the Negev desert that would otherwise have passed by our untrained eyes. Before leaving us after our third and final day of hiking, Dan shared a heartfelt, parting insight with our group, which hit upon the ikar (essence) of Pardes:
Nowadays, Dan no longer guides Desert hikes to make his living; he has become selective about the people he guides, and he rarely works with large groups. In this context, he told us, Pardes is a special exception to his rule. Dan reflected that he was most strict with his children when he reacted out of fear, and that open acceptance of others is a particularly challenging ideal to live by. In Pardes, Dan sees a community of people who approach one another with open hearts, seeking common underlying values and passions, accepting differences in political and religious preferences, as well as differences in lifestyles. After years of leading Negev tiyulim for the Pardes community, Dan remains inspired by Machon Pardes and takes pleasure in being a small part of our unique institution.
Our fantastic adventure was capped beautifully by Dan’s thoughts, and I continue to reflect today upon how wonderful it was to share this special, challenging experience with the other members of my Pardes community. I’m very thankful to have had this opportunity