Whenever I visit Israel, I stay with family in the central cluster of concrete surrounding Tel Aviv, where you can hardly tell where one city ends and the next one begins. When I step out of the airport, it is not the sound of honking taxis that I hear, but a call from the south, the desert, the Negev. Maybe it is the hot air. Maybe it is Ben-Gurion shouting from the past, who realized the importance of this place long before most of us.
In this time of constant addictive stimuli from screens and sounds, there is not a better place to stand still and do nothing than in the desert. What a perfect spot to take a moment and experience the present. The present is a spectrum. Its transitions from the past or to the future are not abrupt and determinable. It is nonsensical to consider the first part of this sentence as the past when you’re halfway through reading it, or to look at the end and think “I will read this in the future.” How long does the present last? I do not know. Worries and stress and presumed responsibilities shorten the present. “Then” and “soon” start to gain the upper hand from “now” and dominate your psyche. Nowhere does the present last as long as in the desert. There, the past is a distant memory and the future an incomprehensible concept.
In the desert, there is nothing to distract you from feeling the heat of the sunlight on your skin. To feel a soft, satisfying breeze of air flow around you. Take a drink of water and taste it — really taste it. Feel how it saturates your body in this unforgiving landscape. This landscape of paradoxes. Inhospitable, yet magnetizing. Ordinary and unassuming, yet more breathtaking than the world’s highest mountains and steepest cliffs. Perhaps it is in its contradictions where the desert’s beauty lies. An oasis is only beautiful as a result of the contrast with its surroundings. The modest amount of trees and shrubs in Ein Avdat is stunning when you realize it is enclosed by tens of kilometers of sun-baked rock and sand. Its waterfall is only cooling if you have felt the heat on top of the cliffs above. How much more beautiful are its small springs compared to the Sea of Galilee?
Forget Tel Aviv, with its beaches and nightclubs and traffic jams. The beer tastes better in Midreshet Ben-Gurion, where just enough people live to not feel alone. Do not waste the present in Jerusalem, the city of semi-spirituality and refrigerator magnets. Where better to discover the depths of your mind and soul than in the middle of the Ramon Crater? The desert is nature’s superior version of the Western Wall, Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (a six-pack of Goldstar to whomever removes that ladder). The lone acacia, rising from the dry ground somewhere in the Negev off Road 40. If there is a god, he is hiding in that tree.