Ken Toltz
Israel-based writer

Everywhere You Look, See Yourself

The view from the lip of Israel’s Makhtesh Ramon crater draws short visits from locals and tourists alike. The morning I made my way up to the viewing platform a young woman was immersed in silent meditation, quietly I made my way down so as not to disturb her. But not before capturing this image as the weathered sign seemed both meaningful and curious.

Everywhere you look see yourself. From the platform the eye is drawn to the vast expanse, deep canyon, stark clash of color between the bright blue sky and reddish/white hard limestone. There is a very steep drop nearly straight down combined with the vista of desert beauty. This draws the eye as one feels singularly diminished by the vastness of the world’s largest erosion crater.

In tourist maps the Makhtesh is described as ‘majestic’, ‘spectacular’, ‘serene’. A ‘backdrop that upholds ancient traditions of nomadic Bedouin tribal life’, where ‘remains of bygone civilizations and ancient archaeological sites and remnants of centuries of agriculture feature an abundance of impressive geological formations.’ All true, yet how does that combine with ‘seeing yourself’?

A father and son take in the morning view.

The attitude expressed in the platform sign is meant to encourage something beyond passive viewing. There’s a suggestion that time spent here might indeed be transformative given a new frame of reference. One can’t help feeling small yet connected when standing in the presence of something so vast, natural, unusual and beautiful.

Everywhere you look see yourself. If you allow yourself time, which may require sharing the experience internally not necessarily with a friend in open discussion. I have hiked down and back up from the Makhtesh twice while living in the small town of Mitzpe Ramon which has grown up on the edge. Once with friends and once alone. Each was a different experience.

Southern edge of Mitzpe Ramon.

It’s some challenging hike! The hikes I’m used to back in Colorado generally begin with an ascent and finish in a descent. This hike is the opposite. One hikes down to the bottom before finding a new steep, winding and rocky trail back up. Recently the round trip required 4 and 1/2 hours. Those last couple of hours were very challenging and exhausting but doable with good shoes, a hat and water. iPod with good music helps as well!

That was my second trip down and back. Some time will have to pass before I do that round trip hike again, letting the experience recede both in my body and mind. In the meantime, I will continue to reflect on the viewing platform message.

About the Author
Ken Toltz began his professional career at AIPAC in Washington, D.C. after attending Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He's a 3rd generation Colorado native, businessman and long-time gun violence prevention activist. After 42 years from his first visit to Israel, in 2019 he relocated his home to Mitzpe Ramon in Israel's Negev. Ken currently resides in Herzliya. He writes about Israeli politics, relations with the U.S. and the Israeli creative class of writers and filmmakers.
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