Our next stop was Be’er Sheva, which is a small college town to the south. Actually, it is much more than a college town. It is the capital of the Negev desert where Abraham built his home. It was also an ancient trade route for the ancient Nabateans who often passed through on caravans of camels. The Negev desert extends over Israel’s southern region, covers over half of Israel’s land area, and is sparsely populated with Bedouins and their camels.
Yatir Winery, Tel Arad
Our guide, Amikam Yechezkely, drove us to Be’er Sheva from Tel Aviv, and we stopped at the Yatir Winery along the way. There, we were treated to food, drink, and good company with the winery employees and other visitors.
When we left, they gave everyone a small bag of very fresh and wonderful almonds. They went beautifully with the Israeli chocolate we bought earlier.
This next picture shows all of us plus the neighbor of our guide on the far right who also happened to be at the winery with another group of tourists. He is the minister of agriculture and had been in the news recently for his controversial regarding the problem of too many cats in Israel.
He wants to round them all up and put them on a plane to somewhere else – perhaps send all the females to a country that is overrun by mice, for example. I wonder if Greece would be interested?
Seriously, though, Israel has almost as many cats as Greece, and in both countries, the cats roam everywhere.
One of my favorite experiences with an Israeli cat was in Be’er Sheva at the hotel we stayed in.
At the hotel front door, there is an employee who greets hotel guests as they enter the hotel and answers questions. He wears a uniform and stands behind a small podium with the hotel logo on it.
One night when we returned to the hotel around 9:30 pm, the employee was not there, but a gray tabby cat was sitting on the podium behind the logo instead.
This cat could not have looked happier to see us. He purred, nudged, and meowed begging for attention, and perhaps hoping we had some food on us. We didn’t, but we responded by talking to him, petting him, and then heading up to our room.
Shabat is the day of rest and seventh day of the week for Jews. Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night. No working is allowed on Shabat – which means not causing any apparatus to function such as turning lights on and off, using the phone, pressing buttons in an elevator and the like. Elevators in hotels have one elevator in the bank of elevators that is voice activated for use on Shabat by Orthodox guests.
We were in Be’er Sheva for Shabat and our guide arranged for us to share the Shabat meal at the home of Professor Haviva Padaya who is head of the J.R. Elaychar Center for Studies in Sephardi Heritage at Ben Gurion University. She owns a gray parrot who sits in a cage in the living room a couple of feet from the dinner table.
If you are familiar with gray parrots, you might know how smart they are. This bird was no exception.
As we all sat at the dinner table for the prayers and right exactly when the prayers ended and before we would all say “Shabot Shalom” to conclude the prayers, welcome in the Shabbath (Sabbath), and commence the meal, the gray parrot shouted, “Shabat Shalom!” All we could do then was laugh and also say “Shabat Shalom!”
African Greys are also highly intelligent, having been shown to perform at the cognitive level of a 4–6 year old child in some tasks. Most notably, Dr Irene Pepperberg‘s work with Alex the parrot showed his ability to learn over 100 words, differentiating between objects, colors, materials, and shapes.
Abraham’s Well in Be’er Sheva
While Jeffrey lectured at Ben Gurion University, our guide took me to see Abraham’s well. It was a rainy day, but luckily I had a waterproof coat and hat with me. We climbed up a lot of stairs where I could look down into this very, very deep well, and then we climbed down a bunch more slippery stairs with handrails to get out.
This was the first of several ancient water systems we saw in Israel. What struck me about all of them is the sheer ingeniousness applied to constructing water systems and directing the water to settlements without using pumps and relying only on gravity (more).
Other Sites in the Area
Tel Arad National Park in the Eastern Negev has ruins of a Canaanite city from the Early Bronze Age (3150-2200 B.C.E.) and fortresses built by Judean kings dating to the Israelite period, which began in 1200 B.C.E . The complex consists of the fortress mound, temples, palace, western gate, city wall, and the well.
Tel Be’er Sheva National Park is east of the modern city of Be’er Sheva and is considered to be the remains of the biblical town of Beersheba. People lived here as early as the fourth millennium B.C.E.
Ben Gurion Hut at Sde Boker is a kibbutz in the Northern Negev mountains, and the home of David Ben Gurion and his wife, Paula. David Ben Gurion was Israel’s first prime minister and defense minister.
Avdat National Park is one of the ancient Nabatean cities along the Incense Route. The Incense Route is the road over which costly incense, perfumes, and spices were brought out of Arabia, across the Negev, and to the Mediterranean ports.
Susya is an archaeologial site in the southern Judaean Mountains of the West Bank that bears the archaeological remains both of a 5th-8th century CE synagogue and of a mosque that replaced it.
Makhtesh Ramon is in the Negev desert at the center of two large nature reserves. It looks like a volcanic crater, but it is really the world’s largest makhtesh, which is a land form unique to Israel. A makhtesh has steep walls of resistant rock that surround a deep closed valley which is usually drained by a single wadi. Makhtesh Ramon has ancient rock formations created 220 million years ago and multicolored sandstone.
Mitzpe Ramon visitor’s center honors the memory of Israel’s astronaut and his son (Ilan and Asaf Ramon) who both died in separate, tragic accidents. It also has an excellent film about wildlife in the area. In the same location is Bio Ramon, which houses a sample of the animals (porcupines, snakes, turtles – lots and lots of turtles, and so on – that live in the Makhtesh Ramon crater. Each exhibit provides information about how and where the animal lives.