Hot On the Border
Updated: May 18, 2020
[written January 2018]
I was cold. I had never expected that I would ever feel cold in Israel. Despite the fact that my previous visits had always been in the hellish heat of July and August, and my Israeli husband had warned me that it does get cold in the desert at night, yada yada, experiencing cold in Israel was just not something my mind could compute. We flew from New York City in below freezing temperatures. I smiled thinking of my envious friends wishing us a safe trip, shivering in their puffy coats. LOL winter! When we landed at Ben-Gurion in the evening, the sight of palm trees only confirmed my previous experience that I would never need a coat again.
And then it rained. It didn’t stop raining in Tel Aviv. People posted on Facebook images of city buses flooded with rain, roads washed out. And with rain came the chill. I could not get warm. My usual water-privileged response would have been to take a long, hot shower, but alas in Israel that was not an option. Even staying inside I was cold. “Yeah, houses in Israel are usually colder than outside,” my husband blithely commented one evening as my teeth chattered. “They’re not designed to hold in warmth.” Combined with jet lag, trying to speak Hebrew, and sussing out the possibilities of working in film in Israel, it was all too much. Don’t get me wrong, I was DIGGING the fresh pomegranate-orange juice:
Hubby with fresh juice in Yaffo.
the fried eggplant and boiled egg sandwiches called sabich with shitloads of amba (pickled mango sauce), and the stunning Bauhaus architecture of Tel Aviv. However for the life of me, I could not get comfortably warm.
At the end of our first week in Israel, a friend invited us to visit him up on his kibbutz by the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) for the weekend. It was still pouring rain, but we wanted to get out of the city. With my brand new rav kav card we hopped on a bus to Tiberias where our friend would pick us up. It was raining even harder there to my extreme dismay. I quickly learned the word for mud: botz. Everything was botz: my Blundstones, our pants, even underwear. Everything changed when another friend mentioned a fun activity we should do the next day: Hamat Geder. “What’s that?” I asked. “Hot spring, a sulphur hot spring.”
HOT SPRING. HOT. SPRING.
The next day our friend picked us up. Remarkably, the rain had stopped and the sky looked like this:
Hamat Geder is pretty famous in Israel. In the main site they have an expensive resort and pools that obviously one pays to get into. This is not the Hamat Geder we were going to. “There’s another spot that locals go to where you don’t have to pay,” our friend Jamie explained. “It’s like, a bombed out building. But it’s great!”
Jamie drove along the Kinneret for a little bit, then turned off the main road, and started climbing a mountain top. Winding up and down hairpin turns, I could see far below us a massive fence marking the Jordanian border, complete with barbed wire, electricity, and touch-sensitive wiring. We continued to make our way down the mountain slowly, getting closer and closer to the border fence. Signs blew past, warning us that we were now in a militarized zone. Finally we were driving into a small field of date palms next to the border fence deep in the wadi, creeping along a now dirt road with steep cliffs on the Israeli and Jordanian sides towering above us. “Look!” Jamie yelled. “Sulphur!” Sure enough the pot holes at the side of the road were steaming. We were close.
Sure enough we started seeing cars pulled over on the side of the road, followed by the bombed out building as Jamie said it would be. We parked and ventured into the building. The roof was gone, open to the sky. Israelis circled the rectangular steaming green pool. People snacked on pineapple, did laps, a few women sat on the steps chatting. As promised, the water was scalding hot. I actually had to ease myself in over five minutes because it was so warm. Finally I submerged in the sulphur water, and floated looking up at a blue sky, feeling utterly sublime and warm for the first time.
In Israel it’s almost comical to think about the lies 45 spews about the dangerous Mexicans threatening Americans to the south and the need to “build a wall.” There is nothing quite like experiencing all of the deadly infrastructure left behind to protect a country's existential and literal survival. Occasionally on the drive down the mountain we’d pass a short concrete wall about 3 meters high scrawled with graffiti. They were designed for people to crouch behind to hide from bullets. I looked across the valley at the equally high hills in Jordan, imagining hiding from gunfire on these placid hills that looked just the same on the other side. In Israel, the proximity of violence morphs from past experience to contemporary artifacts – a lived nostalgia of struggle that will happen again and again. The locals’ Hamat Geder felt perfectly Israeli to me: a structure left behind from warfare housing a natural gift welling up from the earth. Israelis and fellow visitors shed their clothes and immerse themselves in the sulfurous waters, enjoying the sun and sky hot on the border.