In the Footsteps of Dreamers

As I have mentioned before, this academic year, I am taking part in a series of field trips with Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, concentrating on the eastern part of Israel. These trips take place, on an average, about once a month. November’s tiyul focused on Qumran and the Dead Sea Sect. (By the way, I hope you are taking the opportunity to learn a few words in Hebrew – tiyul being one of them.) Each tiyul has a title, usually taken from the words of a popular Hebrew song. Last month’s title was: “And he carries one dream in his heart”, taken from the refrain of a song by Yoram Tehar-Lev (words) and Yair Rosenblum (melody) and first performed by Rivka Zohar at the 1969 Israel Song Festival. It only reached fourth place, but was a huge public success, and was voted Song of the Year in the annual hit parade of both Israel Radio and Galei Zahal (Israel Army Radio).
The song tells of three craftsmen, dreaming of a Messianic age, when the Temple will be rebuilt.

Here is the song in its entirety, followed by my own translation of the words.





In our narrow street
Lives a rather strange carpenter.
He just sits in his hut
And doesn’t do a thing.

No-one comes to buy
And no-one comes to visit
And for two years now,
He’s done no carpentry.
And he still carries one dream in his heart
To build a chair for Elijah, when he comes.
In his own hands he will bring it
To Elijah the Prophet.

And he sits and awaits him.
For years now, he has dreamed his wish will be granted.
He guards his secret, and awaits him.
When will the day come?


In our narrow street
Lives a rather strange cobbler.
He just sits in his hut
And doesn’t do a thing.
His empty shelves
Are covered with dust.
For two years now,
His awl has lain in its sack.
And he dreams of sewing shoes
In which the feet of the messenger of good tidings will be beautiful upon the mountains.
In his own hands he will bring them
To Elijah the Prophet.

And he sits and awaits him.
For years now, he has dreamed his wish will be granted.
He guards his secret, and awaits him.
When will the day come?


In Jerusalem, there is
A man, no longer young,
Who has built many houses
In all corners of the city.
He knows every alley,
Every street and neighbourhood.
He has been building the city
For seventy years now.
And he dreams that, just as he built the City,
He will lay the cornerstone for the Holy Temple.
In his own hands he will bring it
To Elijah the Prophet.

And he sits and awaits him.
For years now, he has dreamed his wish will be granted.
He guards his secret, and awaits him.
When will the day come?


So now you have learned a new word in Hebrew – חלום (chalom – dream). The “ch” is pronounced, more or less, like the “ch” in Johann Sebastian Bach, or in the Scottish word “loch”.

In the late Second Temple period (2nd century BCE – 1st century CE), the dreamers who left Jerusalem, (a city whose leaders had, in their eyes, become corrupt), turned their gaze eastward, to the Judaean Wilderness and the Dead Sea.  One such group was the Essenes, whom the Roman author Pliny the Elder located in the area of Ein Gedi, by the western shore of the Dead Sea. Some scholars have identified the Dead Sea Sect as an offshoot of the Essenes. Both sects placed great emphasis on ritual immersion as a ritual of purification. Possibly for this reason, it has been speculated that John the Baptist was an Essene.

Be that as it may, our first stop on this tiyul was at Qasr el-Yahud (an Arabic name meaning, literally, “Castle of the Jews”). This site, just north of the spot where the River Jordan flows into the Dead Sea, is sacred to Christians as the site where John baptised Jesus. It is also traditionally considered to be the place where the Israelites crossed the River Jordan and entered the Promised Land, and where Elijah  the Prophet was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot.
You will understand, now, the choice of the song which gave a title to this field trip.

Qasr el-Yahud, formerly controlled by Jordan, until Israel’s miraculous victory in the Six Day War, now marks the Israel-Jordan border. The border itself runs through the middle of the river, which is very narrow at that point.





As I said, this  is the traditional site of Jesus’s baptism. Christian pilgrims flock to the site, where, clad in white robes, they seek to recreate that event by immersing themselves in the waters of the River Jordan (which, when we visited, were extremely muddy).
Many of them burst spontaneously into songs of praise.






As we left the baptism site, our guide drew our attention to what appeared to be a jetty, on our left, between the road and the Dead Sea.





Now, who in the world would build a jetty in the middle of dry land?
And thereby hangs the tale of another dreamer.

Moshe Novomeysky was a Russian-born Jewish mining engineer, who dreamed of extracting minerals from the Dead Sea. In the 1920s, he founded the Palestine Potash Company which, in 1929, won the tender for mining the Dead Sea area. In those days, the Dead Sea was much larger and transportation to and from the mineral extraction plant was by boat. In the wake of Israel’s War of Independence, the northern half of the production facilities was occupied by the Jordanian Legion and subsequently destroyed.
In 1952, the company was replaced by the Dead Sea Works.
In the years since then, the shoreline has receded. Many environmentalists claim that the activities of the company have contributed to the Dead Sea’s slow evaporation. At any rate, this is the reason that a jetty, which once saw ships carrying potash and other minerals, is now in the middle of the desert.

Our next stop was at Nachal Qumran, whose towering rock formations are home to dozens of caves which served as hiding-places for those who did not wish to be found, as refuge for hermits, as home for those who turned their back on a Jerusalem which had, in their eyes, become corrupt under the Hasmonean priest-kings (and later, under the Herodian dynasty) – and where, 2000 years later, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, in caves like these:





We hiked up the mountainside, not as far as the caves, but high enough, especially considering how narrow the “path” was – in some places, no more than about 30 centimetres – and how dizzying the drop.





I daresay it was nothing to this pigeon:




I, however, do not have wings – and although, when we reached the highest point of our hike (which was still quite far from the top), we met a fearless abseiler preparing to rappel down the cliffside, I myself took care not to get too close to the edge when having my photo taken.






Efrat, our guide, explained how the Essene sub-sect that lived here, diverted the channel of the Qumran stream so that when, in winter, the waters came rushing down in a torrent, they would not cause too much erosion and sweep everything away before them.




Our final stop was at the Qumran National Park, where, amongst other things, one can see the ritual baths, divided in the middle so as to separate those going down into the purifying waters from those who, having already purified themselves, were on their way up:





Perhaps of greatest interest is the Scriptorium, where benches and inkstands were found and where, possibly, some of the scrolls found in the nearby caves may have actually been written.



Our trip to the Qumran National Park ended with a short visit to the on-site museum, where, besides replicas of scrolls, eating utensils and other day-to-day items such as would have been used by the Qumran Sect  (which called itself The Yachad – “Together”), which can actually be handled by the visitor (hence the use of replicas), there is also an audio-visual presentation documenting the lifestyle and beliefs of this fascinating community.

Once again, the early winter sunset forced an early end to the day’s activity, as it would have been dangerous to continue hiking in that region in the dark.

Our next tiyul won’t be until January. In the meantime, since tonight, we kindle the eighth and final Hanukkah candle, let me take the opportunity to wish you all a Happy Hanukkah.

About Shimona from the Palace

Born in London, the UK, I came on Aliyah in my teens and now live in Jerusalem, where I practice law. I am a firm believer in the words of Albert Schweitzer: "There are two means of refuge from the sorrows of this world - Music and Cats." To that, you can add Literature. To curl up on the sofa with a good book, a cat at one's feet and another one on one's lap, with a classical symphony or concerto in the background - what more can a person ask for?
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4 Responses to In the Footsteps of Dreamers

  1. It does sound like you had a lot to do and a lot to see, too. It is saddening that the sea has receded so much, and through mans intervention. I hope one day things will be normal again.
    Happy Hanukkah to you, also.

  2. As ever, a fascinating article. I hope you have had a blessed Chanukah.Every Blessing for its remaining hours.

  3. 15andmeowing says:

    Sorry I am so late in reading this. I like to be sure I have plenty of time when I read these posts as they are very educational. That was a nice song too.

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