Down at the Dead Sea

The beach, the landscape, the robe, the feeling of being pampered. For me, even such nice things arouse a sense of longing.

Neri Livneh
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Neri Livneh

It was with some trepidation that I received the information that I was destined to spend the weekend in one of the five-star hotels at the Dead Sea. First, because the metaphorical name of this mineral-rich lake, the "Dead Sea," bodes nothing good. Second, because the desert arouses fear and awe in me. At any moment a sinkhole could open beneath my feet and God could talk to me from a burning bush. Third, because this entire concept of spending a weekend in a hotel that is not located in the heart of a busy city, or isn't at least a sea or ocean away from Ben-Gurion airport, has never been entirely clear to me. And in fact, the last time I stayed at a Dead Sea hotel for the purpose of writing an article was about 15 years ago.

Since I felt sorry for my children - who because their parents divorced never experienced the pleasures of a family weekend in a hotel with a minibar in each room - I took the younger ones (the eldest was already old enough to object ) to the very elegant suite arranged for me back then by organizers of the event I was supposed to cover. My children were wide-eyed at the sight of the huge expanses of marble in the lobby, opened and closed doors in the suite that had three bedrooms, three bathrooms, four televisions and a luxurious living room, jumped in turn on the mattresses of all the beds, finished the contents of the minibar - and then, after 40 whole minutes of having a good time, demanded to go back home immediately.

The Dead Sea.Credit: Michal Fattal

And now, 15 years have passed in the blink of an eye, and already I'm involved in this once again. "What's so terrible about the Dead Sea?" asked one of my friends in surprise. Even though she refused to join me, she insisted that, "I really envy you, it would suit me to go for a rest now at the Dead Sea, and maybe all the bromine in the air will calm you."

Another friend informed me that he "is crazy about the Dead Sea, it's the greatest! There was a time when I would go there every month to relax, to sit on the waterfront, I really envy you." Still, he didn't even let me complete the sentence that began "I have a room with two king-size beds, so maybe you ..." before he blurted out such a definitive no that it sounded as though the word had at least three syllables.

So I was left alone with all that beauty. Although I had planned to spend my time sitting on the beach, I decided to take a few precautions. First, I tried to recall all the friends I have who live near the Dead Sea, but I could recall only one. On second thought I realized that she lives in Sde Boker, and besides, I haven't spoken to her since high school.

And then, with great sorrow, I recalled the late Shlomo Drori, who was the husband of my mother's good friend, and eventually - after he became the spokesman for Dead Sea Industries - moved to Sodom with his family; when I was a child we used to visit them every year on the holidays and stay at the youth hostel there. I remember those visits as a nightmare. But I recall Shlomo, his wife Shula and their daughter Mika, who was a close friend of mine, with great longing, especially recently, since I heard Michel Cohen, the nightingale from Dimona, singing "At Haki Li Ve'Ahzor" on the television reality show "The Music School." That song, translated by Avraham Shlonsky, was sung during World War II by Shlomo, whose surname was Deutscher at the time. He was the soloist of the British army's Jewish Brigade entertainment troupe, and once, when it performed at a displaced persons camp in Europe, Shlomo found his mother, whom he had lost track of during the war. If that wasn't enough, Shlomo, who had one of the best senses of humor of anyone I've known, sang the same song for me at my first wedding, standing under the mango tree.

So I bought sports shoes, for walking. I considered and rejected the idea of buying a bathing suit because in any case I would have to kill anyone who saw me wearing it. And I went off to the Dead Sea.

"Primeval splendor," I muttered to myself, peering at the view from my window, but even primeval splendor doesn't really excite me. On the other hand, the sight of bodies of water immediately cheers me up.

In the lobby of my hotel people were walking around wearing white robes and matching flip-flops. I sneaked toward my room in this place where "all the rooms have a marvelous view of the Dead Sea or the mountains" - with the exception, of course, of the room I got, which overlooked a large roof of a pavilion, and the highway. I put on my sports shoes and decided to walk toward the sea, a distance of 200 meters on a path full of charmless shopping centers, and baskets of Ahava Dead Sea cosmetic products. I walked along the beach from one hotel to another until after half an hour, when Shabbat was approaching, I found a lone plastic chair and sat down to watch the breathtaking sunset.

I waited and waited. Evening came and darkness began to fall, and it was almost nighttime, and yet it was not preceded by a sunset which, as everyone knows, separates day and night. I would have waited forever had it not been for my friend the geologist, who phoned and informed me that over the Dead Sea what you see is the sunrise; the sunset can be seen over the hills to the west.

Apparently that's what makes the Dead Sea one of the wonders of the world.