From the very beginning, I loved the Sinai Peninsula. Having served so far north, specifically on the Golan Heights, and in parts of Syria, I was happy to experience a change of scenery.
For the first few years my unit was called up for reserve duty along the northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, where the sea met the sand and the dunes of the northern portion of the Sinai. A long sandbar in the Mediterranean created a lagoon known as the Bardawil. I can still smell the pungent air that drifted from the sea across that very salty body of water.
According to some of the Bedouin we encountered, the fishing in Bardawil was excellent.
We outfitted our jeeps with oversize tires, and we traveled along the dunes, looking for smugglers.
Over the next few years, as Egypt and Israel drew closer to making final the peace that holds until today, our sector got ever closer to the Gaza Strip, first past El Arish, and then past Sheikh Zuweid.
I photographed many a spectacular sunset from the vantage point of our patrols.
I joined several treks into central Sinai, under the auspices of the Nature Protection Society of Israel. We came across oases, we hiked along spectacular wadis and we found fossils in the rocks that attested to the fact that the entire peninsula had once been submerged below the sea. There were plateaus littered with geodes. There were nights when the Milky Way and its billions of stars were but a reach of the hand away.
It was during one of these treks that I climbed Mount Sinai, all five of its peaks, and visited the Monastery of Santa Caterina, commonly known as Saint Catherine’s Monastery. The absolute silence atop this sacred mountain, the spectacular view of Saudi and Egypt at once, waking to find that my breath had condensed and frozen inside my tent, these were experiences that would remain with me forever.
There were treks along the eastern shores of the Sinai, south from Taba, to Nuweiba and on to Dahab, finally arriving at Sharm el-Sheikh. The beaches were spectacular, the Red Sea was pristine, and the snorkeling at Sharm, the very southern tip of the peninsula, was like no diving I had ever experienced.
I was fortunate to celebrate Pessach in the Sinai. Once, in my capacity as a member of the IDF’s Liaison Unit, we had the opportunity to invite US servicemen serving with the MFO to our Seder. They were stationed near Taba, members of the Multinational Force and Observers along the new border between Egypt and Israel. There, under the open sky, we told the story of how we became a free people. We were transported back in time to when the tribes of Israel left servitude and slavery to become a free nation, a free people. We talked for hours, into the night, with countless stars above and a huge full moon listening to our every word.
The Sinai was the experience that strengthened us. The Sinai prepared us for the monumental task of building our nation. The Sinai made us resourceful and creative. The Sinai allowed us to collectively surmount the traumas of slavery. We accepted that the laws carried to us by Moses would become an integral part of our being.
Passover and the Sinai Peninsula are linked forever in my memory and in my very being.