By Deena Levenstein
This week I went down to the Negev, Israel’s largest desert in the south which is sort of in the middle of nowhere. That’s a funny thing to say in a country as small as Israel, especially considering that it is only an hour and fifteen minute drive from our home in Jerusalem to Arad, the town where we stayed on the northern edge of the Negev.
- The view from a typical Arad sidewalk
Photo by Deena Levenstein
Arad. You’ve probably heard the name though you might have no idea where it is or what it is. That makes sense considering it’s a small, sleepy town that is not usually on tourist destination maps.
But it’s a sweet little place so let me quickly tell you a bit about it.
Arad is a town of approximately 24,000 people a few kilometers west of the southern tip of the Dead Sea. We stayed in the Inbar Hotel, the hotel in Arad, which I’d say is around a 3 or 4 star hotel with the loveliest staff, surprisingly delicious food and a view of the desert hills from the breakfast room.
Arad was the first planned city in Israel and is known for its clean, dry air. I concur – I was amazed to step out of the car upon arrival and find the air to be comparable to Jerusalem’s dry mountain air.
- Arad was founded nearby the ancient Tel Arad.
Photo from goisrael.com
Arad is a half hour drive from Masada where we saw their sound and light show which has its moments of glory:
- The sound and light show by Masada
And it is an hour and a half drive from Mitzpe Ramon, the large crater in the middle of the Negev desert where we went to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower of 2015, the greatest annual meteor shower. The Negev is arguably the best place to watch this celestial show in Israel.
As we approached the turn off to Mitzpe Ramon, Waze began to tell us that our trip was delayed because of traffic – clearly we and half of the country had decided to grace the desert that night to see the heavenly sights. We were redirected to a second entrance towards the crater and parked an unknown distance from the viewing areas. One middle aged couple seemed to be walking in the opposite direction of everyone else and so we asked them why. The man said, “We were told there are better stars over there.”
The entire experience was nothing less than surreal. We walked carrying our mats, water, food and blankets along the streets which had been darkened for the occasion. There was also no moon which made it that much darker and we walked with a couple of flashlights which we were careful not to shine on any of the hundreds of people we passed by who had set up “camp” on the sidewalks. We ended up perching ourselves on a flat, stony hilltop along with dozens of others. We put down our mats, removed some – though not all – of the unwanted stones from beneath them, and lay down to enjoy the show.
As we gazed upwards, around us we could hear people laughing and chatting in the dark. Some had brought guitars and were singing Israeli and American classics which we sometimes sang along with. And any time a meteor flashed across the sky, there was an outcry amongst our fellow sky gazers. Lying there under the pitch black sky, watching the thousands of stars, talking and laughing for hours, huddling close to stay warm in the freezing, dewy night air of the desert (brrr), dozing off and then waking up to the beautiful black and shiny sky, was simply spectacular.
Of course I don’t have any decent pictures because it is one of the photo ops which need to be recorded in our brains alone but here’s one anyway:
- I’m the funny looking one on the far left.
Photo by Miriam Schwab
The drive back to Arad was one of the most challenging I’ve done, with the fatigue of 3 am, unfamiliar, winding dark roads and a repeatedly fogged up windshield. But the Negev is a magical part of Israel and with its quaint towns and expansive breathtaking natural phenomena, it’s all part of our amazing Negev adventure which I’ll never forget.
- The Ramon Crater during the day Photo from goisrael.com
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