University Trip: Arava III
Wrapping up our two-day trip to the Arava (I & II) under the behest of Bar Ilan University’s Archaeology department, we found ourselves leaving the gorgeous Timna Park and headed for our next destination: Tamar. A slightly obscure site that still found itself maintaining importance for thousands of years, Tamar is located alongside the kibbutz-cum-settlement of Ir Ovot in the northern part of the Arava (20km from the Dead Sea). Arriving sleepily at Tamar after the bus ride, we disembarked and prepared ourselves for a long tour of the site. We started at the northern corner, a corner tower of the ancient Israelite fortress.
Just to give a quick historical summary: Tamar was first established as an fortress by the Israelites, becoming a site of regional importance due to its strategic location and control over the freshwater spring. Tamar was expanded from fortress to fortified city over the following two hundred years or so. The city was abandoned after the Babylonian conquest of the Holy Land, to be taken control of by the Nabatean hundreds of years later, using it as a fortified stop on their Incense Route. In the 200-300s CE the Romans built their own fortress and bathhouse on the site, among other buildings.
There was then a period of general disuse and eventually the site became the location for a British Mandate police station; a drinking trough built to water their horses coming in from dry desert rides. In modern times, a group came to settle the south and built a small community next to the expansive ruins, naming it Ir Ovot. An organisation named Blossoming Rose, a non-profit based out of the USA, has undertaken restoration and conservation efforts to make the site the pleasant place it is to visit today.
Leaving my group to explore on my lonesome, I walked from the northern corner to the western corner, under the waving Israeli and American flags. On the way, I entered the modern military bunker, with explanatory photographs and maps on the walls in the simple underground room. From the western corner I swung southeast along the excavated city walls. I paused briefly to photograph a small drab bird that was flitting about a tree – a streaked scrub warbler. Dropping down a level I found myself looking at a large, impressive jujube tree.
Despite the popular rumours that this particular tree is over 2,000 years old, the tree is indeed old, but a more logical 500 or so years old, or so I believe. Skirting the decked trunk, I walked out the see the Roman bath ruins, reminding me of the intricate ruins at Bet Shean and Caesaria that I’d seen the previous years.
From the Roman ruins I walked over to a model version of the Israelite mishkan (temporary temple before the First Temple), a tribute to the possibility that the mishkan once stood at this very site (biblically known as Ovot). From the mishkan model I found myself approaching the British Mandate concrete drinking trough with its engraved Arabic graffiti; water being fed in via a duct stemming from the large well metres from the jujube tree.
Passing the through fortress ruins I spent a few futile minutes trying to photograph sunbirds feeding on a flowering bush with the blurred backdrop of the tour company.
Walking back out to the site’s perimeter, I retraced the steps of my colleagues and entered the main gate of the Israelite fortress. From the Israelite fortress I examined the ruins of a Roman cistern and interesting building strata. Rejoined with the group at the British police station, I enjoyed their company until we ended the tour, heading back to the buses for a quick drive over to the final stop on our two-day trip: the Vidor visitor centre at Moshav Hatzeva.
Being that the Arava is an unlikely yet highly successful agricultural centre in Israel, a visitor centre was opened to educated the general public as to the techniques and tribulations of desert agriculture. We learned that these days Russia is the biggest importer of Arava-grown citrus fruits, which are interestingly sweeter due to the slightly salty water pumped from desert wells (a form of compensation of sorts). At the culmination of the slide-show lecture we were taken outside to the greenhouses to be taught more, with demonstrations of flower genders and talks of pollination.
Unfortunately, the sun was slowly sinking over the horizon and it was hard to get many decent photos of the greenhouse fun that we had. With the classic desert night chill setting in, the Archaeology department’s volunteer hero swooped in with hot drinks and soups to both warm and nourish us before our long drive back to the Tel Aviv area, the end of yet another successful educational trip provided for us by Bar Ilan University.
Written by: Shem Tov Sasson
P.S. Thank you Shem for sharing this wonderful experience with us!
Several years ago we made a choice to develop Biblical Tamar Park around a historic chronological theme with each of the seven periods set within the 55 acres of the Park. Each site would be identified by a certain period of time as well as with a building or a display. The Abrahamic Historical Site was first and the plan was to purchase a Bedouin tent for the display. The task of finding a locally made, hand-woven tent, proved to be quite a task. We searched for a couple years.
We did locate replicas of the Bedouin tent, one made in Turkey, but it was very expensive. Finally, this fall, Mohammad, our neighbor, found an original tent, woven by the local Bedouin women from goat’s hair. It is beautiful, but very old and in need of repairs by experienced seamstresses.
The tent will be repaired and installed in February close to the Moses display that houses the Tabernacle. We expect the entire site to be completed in early 2017 and are thankful for the Abrahamic Site Sponsors, Chris and Ann Barnes, as well as a generous donation from one of our Education Committee members, Victoria Brogdon. The tent will need to be furnished with certain types of carpets and stools used during the time of Abraham.
Keeping the ancient well, aqueduct, and camel trough properly sealed so that the water would not seep into the ancient walls, has been an ongoing challenge. This year a noted Jewish immigrant, Geologist Dr. Olga, from Russia, travelled to Tamar and gave us instructions along with the formula for a mixture that would properly seal the waterways and water storage areas. When the system was filled and activated, there were no leaks and hearing the water splashing into the well and watching it run down the aqueduct into the camel trough made many of us happy. Many people have worked in this area of the Park for a few years to make this possible and we are grateful.
Learn more about how you can help Biblical Tamar Park
Now they want to make one last tour to Israel and stay for a while as volunteers at Tamar, where we began our archaeology work together in 1984. The Hainleys were in that first vanguard of people, with Pastor James Bugg and his wife, Marilyn, trekking their way to Tamar. What we all can’t seem to forget is that our bus had a flat tire on the way to Tamar. All fifty of us sat outside in the desert while the tedious task of changing a bus tire was completed. Once again, they will be with James Bugg on this November 2016 tour.
During the last thirty years, they have returned to Israel several times, always as great friends of Israel working both at Biblical Tamar Park and in Jewish projects. Their real jobs at home were just as beneficial to people. They founded and directed Eagle Village, a home for boys assigned by the State, who need special attention. Their family still serves at this remarkable Village.
Only God knows if Kermit and Jean will celebrate their 70th anniversary in Israel. Something to look forward to.
Our first week was one of adjustment, settling in to our rooms, buying food and learning the tasks that awaited our tackling. We accomplished the listed tasks and decided with the temperature so hot in the desert we would go north for our free days. We turned our little Mazda toward Jerusalem. Early this week we experienced an unseasonable hot spell. IN THE SHADE, the thermometer reached 117.5!The Old City is still a “rabbit’s warren” of winding streets and alleys. We found our way to the Western Wall and arranged to tour the under-ground continuation of the wall. It was absolutely fascinating. I never realized what a great builder King Herod the Great was! One stone was 40 yards long and weighed 600 tons and it was raised to the middle of the wall! The pyramids are a world wonder, but I think Herod’s buildings are too. His palace at Masada was another wonder!
We have really begun to dig into our work lists. The irrigation has been checked daily, weeding has been done, painting in the caravans as well as cooking for our group and more grocery shopping. Jim has been doing his specialized work with the vehicles, building and repairing. The mule we bought last summer was dead. Jim brought it back to life with a new drive belt. Of course we had to drive 40 miles round trip to En Yahav to pick up the belt. He also fixed the air-conditioning in the van. There is a whole section of outside lights, as well as in the British Building and the bomb shelter, that don’t work. Together we’ve checked four different electrical boxes and haven’t found the problem yet. There were storms before we came that caused the black-out. We probably will have to wait for Larry Borntrager to come in a few days to fix these lights. The nice thing about it is that the stars at night are so much brighter without our lights on. That full moon over the mountains of Jordan was so beautiful and we can see Mars clearly!I started cleaning the sukkah (a large open area, around a fire pit, with light flowered coverings for walls and ceiling, with comfortable lounging seating). We had a dust storm a week ago and everything is covered with a measurable amount of sandy dust. The wind had clustered banks of fuchsia bougainvillea blossoms in every corner. Lovely splashes of color, but a mess to sweep out. Right before lunch, I took all the pillowcases and bed coverings and put them in the wash. Yes, I shook them out first. I came to lunch with dusty hands, glasses and needing Kleenex. After we ate I put everything in our fast dryer, the wind! The flies are so persistent in the heat, but I remembered my netted hat and pulled the netting over my face. That way, they didn’t drive me crazy! I hung everything up on our outside lines as fast as I could. An hour later it was all dry and smelling so fresh! Going over to the sukkah around 3 pm, I headed right for a chair. Walking that 40 yards took everything out of me. Hopefully the winds will not undo all my work.
– Pat De Groot
The traditional ten day tour to Israel, for ground and airfare, costs approximately $3000. Some tour participants can choose to pay up to $10,000 for the experience but those who want a “no frills” experience can find prices as low as $2200.
Blossoming Rose has, for many years, served people who are interested in the Holy Land with excellent hotels in Jerusalem and the Galilee and have added a unique “desert wilderness” experience at Biblical Tamar Park.
The total experience in Israel, which includes wading/swimming in all four Seas is unique to our tours. Few ten day tours include the south of Israel, especially exploring in the Paran Desert and snorkeling in the Eilot National Park on the Red Sea.
The Biblical Tamar Park experience is a “one-of-a-kind” in Israel. No other public park furnishes overnight housing and free access to the Israel Nature Reserve that surrounds the Park. The incredible quietness in the morning and evenings, along with the daily sounds of birds and little amphibians, make this a memorable part of the trip.
If you have been reading the letters in our Newsletters, you know that hundreds of people have found this desert experience to be beyond their wildest imaginations. In fact, for many, their experience is the opposite of what they were expecting, knowing ahead of time that their rooms would not qualify for the “star system.”
There is also the option of either arriving early or extending your visit to Israel. A person can “stay-on” as a volunteer for up to 80 days in the Park, assisting the Park Supervisor in many different important tasks.