Dispatch from a Rampaging Camel: Purim 2013 Snapshots
by Gidon Ben-zvi
The headlines from Purim 5773 were fat, loud and ominous. First, from the West Bank, dire reports of growing tensions; demonstrations in Ramallah and Hebron and the looming goblin of a third intifada filled the airwaves, sending a chill down Israel’s spine. Meanwhile, about 1000 miles east north east of Jerusalem, a country hijacked almost 35 years ago by a thuggish religious Supreme Leader who went by the moniker ‘Ayatollah’ announced that it had designated 16 new sites for nuclear power plants and made a significant discovery of new uranium deposits.
The latest piece of political theater to be produced by the Islamic Republic of Iran, while disconcerting, should be kept in proper perspective. Indeed, one can take comfort in the fact that a very similar drama was played out once before, to great acclaim and a Hollywood-style happy ending. In the 5th Century B.C.E., Haman, an evil vizier of the Persian Empire under King Ahasuerus, obtained permission from the king to send out a decree to the entire kingdom calling for all the Jews to be wiped out on the 13th of Adar.
Fast forward to our time and you get the feeling that history is but a series of reruns and that humankind is caught in an endless loop of outlandish plot lines inhabited by cartoonish villains. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that elfish fiend, has repeatedly boasted that Israel will be “eliminated”. Similar to Haman’s subtle manipulation of his king, Ahmadinejad has cleverly sought to align himself with the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly referred to Israel as a “tumor” and frequently echoes Khomeini by saying that Israel should be wiped off the map.
Let’s hope that this modern day sequel to the Bronze Age classic – let’s call that one “The Persian Empire Strikes Out” – betrays an utter lack of imagination and ends exactly the way the original planned genocide against the Jewish people did.
The glibness you detect has all to do with the where and how of my own Purim 2013, spent serenely underneath a sparkling desert sky at an eco-friendly hut made of mud and date palms. Indeed, while the aforementioned news items were igniting a storm of earnest commentary across the blogosphere, I was celebrating Purim in quiet tranquility, imbibing the vast desert vistas that were the expansive setting of an intoxicating interplay of light and shadows.
My partners on this excursion into complete detachment included my wife Debbie and baby daughter Tamar. Invigorated by Khan Be’eroyotayim, the psychological bumps and emotional bruises of our workaday lives rapidly faded away.
Having arrived at the Khan (desert lodgings) in the late afternoon, we dropped off our black duffle bag, brown baby diaper bag and two faded fatigue back packs. Next, we embarked on a brief stroll of the area surrounding the Khan, a region rife with the remains of many cultures, from the dawn of history and to this very day.
In true holiday spirit, my wife and I donned costumes. Jonathan, full-time brother-in-law and part-time ace navigator, snapped a picture of the occasion: me, looking like a befuddled Freemason gazing blankly eastward in my maroon-colored fez; Debbie, wearing a brown rounded cap with protruding gold-colored horns – the personification of a bedraggled Viking; our daughter looking deliciously contemptuous – either annoyed at the desert in her midst or the paparazzi in her face or both.
Then came dinner. Perhaps emboldened by the noxiously sweet pomegranate wine that we had purchased on our way to this oasis in the western Negev Highlands, I signed up for a camel-caravan tour. With all the other adults in our party having passed, I was left to experience the morning ride across hidden desert paths while in the good company of a pint-sized fireman, cherub-faced queen and a rather portly Native American chief. Though Mordechai had failed to make an appearance, we carried on without him and mounted our camels with gusto.
Led by a Khan Be’eroyotayim staff member, I had the distinct privilege of riding the lead camel on an expedition that encompassed long abandoned spice routes and settlements. My camel, Sagit was her name, was friendly – too friendly, in fact. Docile, dim and smelly, Sagit pierced the illusion I had of the fast, graceful and unpredictable desert camel prone to the occasional rampage.
Still, with Sagit frequently stopping the caravan in order to lower her head and munch on the local fauna and flora, I had ample opportunity to take in the colors and landscapes of the Sinai coastal plane. Both Sagit and I returned to the desert inn most assuredly satisfied.
The end of my camel ride marked the end of our stay at Khan Be’eroyotayim. Kicking up dust as we pulled away in our rented Mazda 3, we hightailed it back to Jerusalem. Within minutes of getting on to Highway 60 the static emanating from the car radio gave way to a rash of incoming news alerts: crisis in Syria; riots on the Temple Mount; Iran nuclear talks and on and on and on…
Yet, a funny thing happened during the dirge of encroaching Armageddon: I tuned it out. For a news junkie such as me, this was no mean feat. Although I had left the desert, the desert had not left me and for the entire ride back to Jerusalem my head was filled with visions of bonfires, sweet herbal tea and gently swaying lanterns.
The quietist Purim I ever experienced had also turned out to be the most thrilling.