The next thing that happened will sound like I’m making it up, but it did happen, just as I’m saying. Blessed or cursed, I hear music in my mind. It’s not like humming a melody to myself, but more like a full-blown production with detailed instrumentation, as if I am wearing loud earbuds. It seldom stops and can be distracting. Often the music is something I’ve heard before, but sometimes it’s music that I’ve never heard.
When we landed in the port of Haifa and disembarked from the ferry, the moment my foot first touched land in Israel, my head exploded with a song I had never heard before. Clearly hearing every instrument; mandolins, clarinets, tambourines, accordions, clapping, and more, I also had a visual flash of people wildly dancing around in a circle in celebration. Looking around at Peter and Karen, I could see that they didn’t seem to hear it. I looked at Donna, but she wasn’t hearing it either.
I have since described this music to others who have told me that it seems like a typical klezmer tune from the 1940s. I had never listened to klezmer music before. This was my introduction to Israel and would be the first of many bizarre experiences in this magical country.
On the Road
Peter “Rolled Off” the ferry, and we all got into the van. We had a gathering to get to! It was nice to be back on the road and on the way. I told everyone in the van all about my wild experience but realized that no one could truly understand what it was like. They all looked at me like I was either crazy or experiencing a truly Devine moment. I made my way to the back of the van with Donna, where we sat on the bed as Peter started driving. He had an idea of exactly where we were going.
As we drove out of Haifa, we couldn’t see much from the back of the van, but what I could see looked like a giant “Erector set” giraffes ready to pluck cargo from the many ships. Passing through a valley between colorful mountains of stacked shipping containers, we continued through the port and out into the city. We were soon on a major highway, and before long, the block-shaped buildings were behind us, with only the open road before us.
The bit of landscape I could see from the back of the van through the front window appeared to be implanted by people trying to reclaim the encroaching desert. To the left, great metallic towers carrying the power lines stretched into the distance. Trees dotted the low-lying hillsides in an organized matrix of green polka dots. Weeds and the occasional scrubby brush struggling to survive scattered across the desert. Sometimes we would come to a stoplight with a turn-off to an outlying village up in the hills. We continued forward, and the klezmer music blared away in my head.
We passed Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva, and eventually arrived at our turn-off to the Gathering held in the Negev. Peter parked the van, and we all piled out. There were real trees, not implanted in a matrix, for which I was thankful. As we walked in, I noticed the few people at this Gathering. We re-met up with many of our brothers and sisters at the Gathering: Daniel, Shai Shai, Gopal, Runar, and Rut. We love them all! This would be a much more intimate affair than the international one. We set up Peter and Karen’s tipi and our little dome tent. Then we looked for what needed to be done to prepare the encampment for the rest of the people arriving in the next few days.
Seed camp had already set up a kitchen and the main fire circle. Peter and I were back to digging the extended toilet pits and collecting firewood, of which there wasn’t much. By evening, we were ready for the next wave of arrivals that would come tomorrow. After a tasty meal and some guitar jams and sing-alongs, we all settled into our various tipis and tents and called it a night.
The scouts had chosen a beautiful place in a small valley surrounded by rocky hills flush with trees. I didn’t think there was such a thing in the desert, but here we were. Peter and I had become best buddies and spent much time together, wandering through the hills looking for downed firewood. We talked about the world and plotted with great idealism as to how it could change for the better. One time we were resting from our search while lying on a huge slab of rock. Peter confided to me that he’s been seeing the Hebrew alphabet in the shapes of clouds. I asked him what they said, to which he laughed and said, “I don’t know. I can’t read Hebrew!”
There was never a dull moment with the Israeli family. Someone brought several big buckets of Dead Sea mud, in three different colors, to the Gathering. Spas around the world charge a fortune for treatment with Dead Sea mud, and here we were, playing in it and making designs on our naked bodies with the colorful mud. After Donna and I ‘painted’ each other, we posed for a picture. Shannon and Davey looked through the developed pictures. She later said it took a while before they shockingly noticed that it was a naked us!
Shabbat is on the seventh day of the week, i.e., Saturday. It is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night. One should perform no work and enjoy restful activities to honor the day. All food is prepared before Shabbat. Only happiness and positive feelings should exist. Any disagreements must be resolved or put on hold. Before Friday night dinner, it is customary to sing two songs, one “greeting” two Shabbat angels into the house (“Shalom Aleichem” -“Peace Be Upon You”) and the other praising the woman of the house for all the work she has done over the past week (“Eshet Ḥayil” -“Women Of Valour”). It is a lovely tradition.
Friday, the camp was all abuzz with cooking a feast for the next days. Any work must be done before sunset. Cleaning, bathing, washing of pots and pans, collecting firewood, and even arriving at the Gathering had to happen before sunset. Nobody could drive for any reason after sunset Friday.
As the evening arrived, we all gathered in a circle and sang the two songs as someone lit the candles. We found out that wine was also part of the tradition. Alcohol is normally forbidden from Rainbow Gatherings, but cultural traditions are an exception. This drinking wasn’t about getting a buzz on. With the pre-prepared food blessed, we all ate as we sat around the fire. Some people told stories of Israel’s history, and Segal sang a few traditional songs. Peter and I backed her up as best we could while some other brothers and sisters played djembe and dumbek, hand drums.
When we crawled out of our tent in the morning, we noticed a few people staying up all night by the fire. They were still deep in conversation. Today would be a day of artistic expression, musical or otherwise, or total relaxation. No work would be done today. A bit of the Dead Sea mud was left from the previous days, so some of the newcomers decided to slather themselves with the remainder. A few people decided to make impromptu sculptures from rocks around the campsite. Several people began to dance as a drum circle formed and jammed out some pleasant rhythms. The festivities of Shabbat continued throughout the evening, even after the third star was in the sky.
One evening a jeep rolled into the camp with two Bedouin/Israeli soldiers. They were probably sent to check out the encampment of hippies. We found their stories interesting as they regaled of their tracking people by the practically invisible tracks in the desert. We invited them back to share a meal and tell more stories.
“Let’s make a circus!”
Segal, a vibrantly explosive personality, was quite entertaining with her songs and stories. We played a lot of music together. She insisted that we visit and stay with her in her home in Jerusalem after the Gathering. It was her desire to do a music program together for children in the local schools. We promised we would, but first, we had previously committed to another project. As the Gathering drew to a close, many of us had the idea of making a street circus together to promote peace and recycling in Israel. One couple had a large facility in Eilat where we could gather to organize the effort. Segal agreed that it was a good idea and decided to join in.
The time came to close out the Gathering. As is the Rainbow tradition, we gave thanks for a successful gathering, scattered the fire stones from the circle, buried the toilet pits, and closed the camp, cleaning everything to look like nobody had been there. Then we hiked to where the vehicles were parked, loaded up, and left for Eilat. We had a circus to construct!