Israel was alive last week with thousands of hikers, campers, and the spectacle of Trance parties.Common wisdom out there says that Israelis are staying at home – afraid to leave their houses for fear of a terror attack. Well, if there was a war going on, we Israelis sure didn’t know it last week. The country’s nature reserves and parks enjoyed more than five million visits during the course of the Passover holiday last week, breaking all records. Not bad for a country with a population of less than seven million.
After spending some time last week with hoards of other Israeli who sprawled out across the country, I can wholeheartedly state the only conflict I encountered was the battle against trance parties. But more about that later.
The country’s attractions were bursting to capacity. Parks that required an entrance fee saw 370,000 visitors, as compared with 310,000 during the same period last year, Ha’aretz reported. Some 30,000 people visited the Ein Gedi nature reserve and 20,000 visited Caesarea.
The Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority said the crowds were especially attracted by special performances – horse shows at Caesarea, the reconstruction of the medieval town at Apollonia, and the replication of the Nabatean market at Mamashit. At the Nimrod fortress on the Golan Heights, special torch-lit tours were organized at night. Other popular sites that drew the crowds were the old courtyard at Kibbutz Gesher in the Beit She’an Valley, Mikve Yisrael and the old munitions factory at the Ayalon Institute in Rehovot.
As for me, my family spent an idyllic 24 hours camping on the shores of the Kinneret – the Sea of Galilee. Duga is a beach on the east side of the lake a few miles north of the more popular Ein Gev. Even though thousands of other Israelis had roughly the same idea, there was plenty of camping room at Duga and the atmosphere was relaxed. The balmy temperature of the brimming-to-the-top lake made for refreshing swimming in April, and the tantalizing aromas of barbecues (mangalim for the Israeli meat-eating enthusiasts) permeated the air.
The fun really began at night though. To our right, a group of twenty-something Russian immigrants began to party, blasting techno-dance music out of their car stereo. A few yards away to the left, a group of teens broke out the boombox and began freeform dancing to some American hiphop. Both sides began turning up the volume to compete for airwave domination.
Meanwhile our group was sitting around a campfire attempting to play Israeli folksongs on acoustic guitars, without much luck. A friend went over to both parties, explained the situation, and in seconds the volume levels were down to ‘reasonable’ and our singalong resumed. All three groups coexisted peacefully for the rest of the evening, and around midnight, we all called it quits and got ready for sleep.
That’s when things really got interesting. The next beach just south of Duga was evidently hosting a Trance music party. For those unaware of this subculture, Trance is hugely popular among Israeli youth, and includes all night parties where they let themselves go – with or without the help of various chemical or alcoholic prompts.
Trance – to these adult ears – sounds like a computerized drone set to a jackhammer beat that’s artificially modulated to alter tones and tempos. The louder it gets and the more swirling the accompanying flashing lights, the more liberated the participants become. Sort of like Woodstock for automatons.
By the second hour of this white noise with a beat, I knew that sleep was not a possibility. I made my way down to the beach and lay down in the sand to gaze at the moonlit lake. At around 4 am, the DJ said goodnight, and suddenly the sounds ceased and I could actually hear the rhythmic rush of the water crashing into the sand.
The trance-sters crashed into their tents, and I gratefully returned to mine hoping to squeeze out a couple hours of sleep before the morning sun began pounding down. As everyone straggled out in the morning for another breakfast of matza related products, we could only laugh at the overnight experience that nobody would ever forget.
As a joke, one of our group put in a Shlomo Carlebach cassette of Hebrew spiritual folk music and blasted it out of his car to provide some alternative program for the breakfast hour. While many people will continue to think of Israel as a land torn apart by conflict and terror, we had discovered the real Israel – a place where rappers, techno and trance fans can share a beach with some old traditionalists, and the only thing lost is a little sleep.
So, the next time someone tells you Israel is unsafe to visit, you can tell them that as long as they bring ear plugs, they should be fine.