Dead Sea Drama

My niece Rachel holding my daughter at the Dead Sea

It all started when my sister, here on vacation with her family, decided that it was a good day to go to the Dead Sea. I suggested to her that perhaps it might be boring for the youngest ones who were too little to be put into all that salty water. After some deliberation we decided that the babies wouldn’t know they were missing anything as long as they were entertained, and the older kids would all really appreciate the experience.

So we set out as planned at the bright and early hour of 12:00 noon. Okay, not quite as early as planned. We were heading to the separate beaches, an Israeli innovation that provides religious beachgoers the opportunity to go swimming without members of the opposite sex looking at you or available to be looked at. We were two mothers with ten of our kids in two cars setting off to a beach that was ‘somewhere’ along the 42 mile stretch of Dead Sea. We figured we would find it eventually.

‘Eventually’ turned out to be a good hour further than we expected. This made for four hours total driving time for less than one hour at our destination. So why didn’t we just stay longer? Oh, we stayed long enough, thank you.

After a ridiculous heat wave it had cooled off from over 100 at home in Neve Daniel to a tolerable high of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. We conveniently forgot that with the difference in altitude we would be descending into temperatures at least ten degrees warmer than where we started. Hence, back to that ridiculous 100+ degrees. At least we would be cooling off in the nice refreshing Dead Sea. Not!

After following signs to the separate beach, we had circled the whole hotel area when we finally realized the sign pointing into the site had been turned the wrong way in true Bugs Bunny fashion. We finally made it to the parking lot, split up our party to a small group of bigger boys, and a larger group of all the girls and the littler boys, and doled out towels, sunscreen and water bottles, and went our separate ways.

Boy, was it hot. The only saving grace about stepping out of our air-conditioned cars was knowing we were about to bathe in the refreshing Dead Sea. We couldn’t get there fast enough. In keeping with the ‘separate swimming’ concept, each section was fenced in on three sides with a small entryway, preventing onlookers from peering in and preventing us from knowing what we were getting into until we had gotten in. As soon as we entered I took a double take. The area was so small! No, let me rephrase that: it was tiny!! The little patch of sand was about the size of my front lawn, with a matching spot of water. We staked our claim on our own piece of burning ground by spreading out our mat, only to find the mat equally burning within seconds.

Those of us appropriately dressed and ready to enter the water did so in short order. It didn’t occur to us that it was odd that few of the dozen or so women were actually in there. We stepped tentatively into the sea, anticipating that jolt of cold that so often accompanies that first contact. We had a jolt alright. The water was BOILING. I don’t take my showers that hot. Luckily that was just the first few steps and after prancing through the water like wild horses, we passed through the boiling part and got to the pretty-hot-but-at-least-we-wont-scald-our-skin part. I stood there in the shallows for a minute or two, holding my baby far from the hot, salty stuff, then I had been there, done that and it was time to refresh myself with the rinsing-off shower that they thankfully managed to include in the meager facilities.

The shower was basically a pole, stuck into a square slab of cement, with two shower heads with pull-chains to turn on the water. The shower was far more popular than the sea on that day. Through the corner of my eye, I noticed a young woman go to the shower like anyone else. Suddenly she let go of the chain, and I watched with horror as she began to sink to the ground then flopped forward, hitting her head, and remaining there motionless.

For a split second I froze, expecting someone – anyone – to do something. But all of the someones were frozen too. I dashed over to her inert figure, with my baby still in my arms, yelling for someone to call an ambulance. As I reached the woman, I looked around to see who had called the ambulance. They were all still frozen! I saw a woman with a phone, clearly not from Israel, and I told her to dial 101 (Israel’s version of 911). She gave me the phone and I told the operator what happened, in my halting Hebrew, wondering in the back of my mind why I was doing this and not a lifeguard or something.

My sister Amy floating in the Dead Sea

Suddenly the lifeguard appeared. My relief was short-lived because he immediately started yelling – at me! I’ll spare you the details of what he said to me because frankly I couldn’t understand most of it. Meanwhile, the girl came to, and she was helped into the shade to wait for the paramedics, and I guess she was okay because the ambulance left without her.

We managed to get a few standard ‘relaxing in the Dead Sea’ photos – none of me relaxing, mind you – and then we were happy to wrap up that episode and head back to our air-conditioned cars. The road to the Dead Sea, like so many other roads here in Israel, is absolutely beautiful. We managed to take pictures of the scenery without even stopping our cars. So we drove four hours that day for a one hour stop. If I had to drive all that distance, I couldn’t think of a better place to be doing the drive than here in Israel.

About the Author

Laura Ben-David is the author of numerous articles and the book, MOVING UP: An Aliyah Journal, a memoir of her move to Israel. She has done public speaking about Israel and Aliyah all over the United States and Israel. Contact her at laura@aliyahbook.com or follow her tweets at http://www.twitter.com/laurabendavd