Let me state upfront I’m not a big fan of the Dead Sea. Sure it’s cool to bathe in a body of water so filled with salt that nothing can live in it so you actually float on top of the water rather than swim.
Plus the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth at 400 meters (or 1320 feet) below sea level, is mentioned prominently in the Bible in no less than nine verses. How many times do you get to say you went floating in a Biblical sea?
But it’s also slimy and cold and full of rocks instead of sand. As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of those things you do once, maybe twice in a lifetime…but that’s it.
Not so for my kids. The idea of lying on your back and not sinking is as superhero magical as being able to fly or mastering invisibility.
Our first experience with the Dead Sea was two years ago. We were staying at the Ein Gedi Field School for a weekend away with our synagogue. On Shabbat I walked with then ten-year-old Amir and eight-year-old Merav down to the free public beach. Aviv was too young at the time to handle the 90 minute roundtrip walk in the hot sun and was quite devastated that he wasn’t allowed to join in the fun.
As soon as we got to the beach, the kids waded in. I’m sure they’d have liked to have jumped in, but the beach at Ein Gedi is not one of the most pleasant ways to “do” the Dead Sea. This particular beach has these large sharp rocks in the water that have come closer and closer to the surface as the water level has receded over the years. Maybe that’s why there’s no charge.
Well, the kids got into floating pretty quickly, but instead of laying back and enjoying the show, they had to spend their time avoiding the treacherous stones: one false move can pierce or scrape the skin just enough to allow the salt to seep in, causing searing pain. Given the number of rocks, it’s pretty much inevitable, and yet still people do it.
Forget all that Carpe Diem crap. Some things just cause temporary insanity.
Merav was the first to brush up against disaster.
“Abba,” she cried out about 15 minutes into our experience. “I think I got cut. Oh, I did. It hurts. Can you come out here? Please!”
This was not a feeling she’d had before and she began to panic in the water. As I tried to paddle out to her, I too got stung.
“I’m coming Merav,” I yelled between stifled curses. Somehow I maneuvered the two of us back to the shore where we nursed the salt in our wounds. I vowed never to do this again.
Flash forward two years. It was a Friday afternoon and we were on our way back to the Dead Sea for another Shabbat weekend. The kids apparently have incredibly short memories when it comes to trauma. Amir and Merav both wanted to give it another try, and Aviv, well he was adamant that he be given his chance at long last.
I refused to go back to the S&M beach at Ein Gedi. But I’d heard that nearby Mineral Beach was rock free. That was the only thing that was free, though: the entrance fee set us back a good hundred shekels. And the water was still cold and slimy. But I figured I could handle that. We all headed in.
About three steps in, our feet descended into something deep and squishy. Mud. That’s OK…it’s supposed to be therapeutic. The big kids started lathering up with the stuff. But Aviv was looking confused. Then he started to wail.
Nuts, I thought, he must have a cut somewhere. He was still close to the shore, so it wasn’t too hard to help him out. I inspected his body. Nothing. But a red rash was starting to spread. Something in the water – the salt or the minerals – was reacting with his sensitive skin. And he didn’t like it one bit.
“You have to get him to the showers,” a helpful man with a bushy beard and dreadlocks suggested.
To do that, though, we needed our shoes. Even though the water might have been rock free, the beach was still covered in millions of not-so-tiny pebbles.
Now let me ask you: have you ever tried to put shoes on a screaming and kicking five-year-old?
“You have to carry him,” Mr. Dreadlocks suggested.
I’ll ask again: have you ever tried to carry a screaming and kicking five-year-old over millions of not-so-tiny pebbles?
The whole process of putting on shoes and hiking up the hill to the showers probably only lasted a few minutes. But it felt like an eternity. Fortunately, once I’d washed the Dead Sea water off Aviv, he reverted to his normal happy self.
Amir and Merav came walking up the steps shortly afterward. This time, their experience had been 100% positive. Merav’s neck was covered in salt – the short walk from the beach had dried off the water leaving just a spicy mineral residue. The mud that covered Amir’s arms had transformed his skin into a dry leather that looked like it was going to crack or flake off at any moment.
“Did you have fun?” I asked.
“It was great!” they both responded.
Well, two out of three aint bad.
But lest you think I’ve been converted, rest assured my curmudgeonly side is still firmly in place. The kids had their Biblical Sea experience, if they want more – let them go on their own.
Or better still, why not check out the other sea mentioned prominently in the Bible: the Red Sea (yes, the same one that parted to allow Moses and the Israelites to pass through). Whether you enter from Eilat or deep in the Sinai, this one has everything you could possibly want: sandy beaches, warmer water and incredible coral, fish and snorkeling.
As far as I’m concerned, next time we’re better off Red than Dead.