Wednesday, July 29, 2009

This Year in Jerusalem....

You'll have to excuse the recent slack in writing for this blog. Jerusalem is a place that more or less dominates your focus. Things turn upside down, inside out, and yet at the end somehow feel more balanced than ever before. Let me try to recap, though explaining might be out of the realm of my capabilities. Actually, I'm fairly certain it's out of the realm of language period.

So I've been in Jerusalem for over a week now and what a bizarre week it has been. After hitchiking/bus riding/budding up with strangers and catching rides up to Tzfat for a much needed Shabbat, I headed back down to Jerusalem by way of Tel Aviv, having made friends with the chevre that were currently enjoying Israel through the lens of Livnot. A friend, more of an angel really, took me and my old college roommate who decided to come to Israel to visit me in for two days. The first full day of Max's arrival we met up with a man I met in Nuweiba (Sinai) who lives in Jerusalem. He was born and raised here, works as an architect, and has many other interesting "hobbies" we'll say. He took us all over Jerusalem, showing us many amazing sites and giving us a walking history lesson. (Side note: I had no idea just how appropriate Antiquity Walking would be as a title for this blog.) After going all over Jerusalem, Max and I caught a night bus to Tel Aviv so as to show him the "other" side of Israel. We spent the next day in Tel Aviv, enjoy sunshine and the Mediterranean, relaxing in the evening with one of the chevre from my Livnot crew, sharing stories and spending most of our time in fits of laughter. If you don't know Max, he's a man with stories that could make even the Pope die laughing. The next morning we caught an early bus to Jerusalem hoping to take a West Bank tour with a non-profit group called Breaking the Silence. Unfortunately the bus we caught wasn't early enough and we missed the tour. Something to look forward to I hope. So we spent our day enjoying the Old City of Jerusalem, going to many of the Christian sites associated with the crucifixion of Jesus. Needless to say these were very intense places where the flashes of tourists' cameras illuminated the tears of the most devoted. It's hard to describe these places. There's a sense that it is supposed to have remnants of the divine, that it's a "holy" place, but with all the tourists and commotion that comes along with people, it becomes more like a heavy laden Disney Land. However, when you find an empty corner and take the time to just be, there is something of a silent power here, even if it's only the incredible energy coming from people's beliefs, there is definitely a weight and sensation indicative of "holy" places. But I digress....

So after a day of wandering the Old City with my old roommate and newly acquired chevre, we met up with Benny again. Now Benny, well he's an interesting guy (to say the least). I'm not quite sure how to describe Benny, but I can give you the basics. He's 51 & an architect that works for restoration here in Jerusalem. He's born and raised in Jerusalem, having served in the military he experienced many of the intifada first hand. Those are the basics. Now for the more "interesting." About fifteen years ago Benny became a monk, of sorts, a mystic really. He studies Kabbalah and Tarot, took a vow of chastity, the whole nine yards. He's probably the best story teller I've ever known, with a bald head and rotund belly that jiggles with his contagious laughter, and after spending an evening with Benny your mind is absolutely spinning. There's no way I can really retell the events of this evening or the incredible scope of conversation, but after Benny had told us of the process of his enlightenment and the things he had seen and experienced since accepting his enlightenment (stories that in the end leave you asking, "Is this guy crazy or am I in the twilight zone?") he proceeded to give my friend Max a most uncanny Tarot reading, one that I'm sure he won't soon forget. This was something he did for me as well in Sinai and earlier in the evening gave me another Tarot reading in Jerusalem that only echoed the same sentiment in Sinai. Apparently, "The Cards Don't Lie" (insert Jamaican accent).

After a night of mysticism, we woke to greet Shabbat. We returned to the Old City, Max and I finding a hostel in East Jerusalem, and Max, myself, and my travel companion from Egypt, Sari, all went out to enjoy Shabbat in the Old City, a Shabbat like no where else. We wandered with no real direction, wishing others "Shabbat Shalom" as we walked on, at times singing ancient Jewish melodies, led mostly by Sari who has a knowledge of Jewish music and a voice that sounds as though it has been singing since Creation itself. We went to the Western Wall where Max got his first taste of enthusiastic Jewish community. A packed crowd of such diversity, from soldiers to hassidim, dancing and singing, celebrating the return of the Jewish people and the fact that they have the opportunity to celebrate where their ancestors could only dream of. The experience is truly inspiring, whether you join in the celebration or watch from a distance, there is something so natural about bringing in Shabbat in Jerusalem.

The next day Max departed back to Dubai, vowing to return to Israel within two weeks time because, in his own words, "This is the most incredible place on the planet." We'll see if his sentiment carries him back here. In the meantime I have been enjoying some much needed solitude. Walking the Old City alone, visiting places such as the Garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives and other quintessential Jerusalem sites. I've also been spending much time reading a most incredible work by Abraham Joshua Heschel entitled God In Search of Man. The beauty of these thoughts, I believe, could not possibly originated from the mind of man, but instead come from incredible dedication to the study of Torah, which is exactly what Rabbi Heschel did. Though there is much to see and discover here in Jerusalem, I believe this book may be the greatest find of all.

So this pretty much brings us up to date. I've been extending the network of friends here in Jerusalem by participating in couchsurfing, a network of people all around the world that host travelers. I stayed with a young married couple for a few nights, getting a healthy dose of the purely secular side of Jerusalem, and am now staying with an artist who seems to know everyone in the city. (Every time I stopped to use someone's phone to call him, they had his number saved in their phone. Popular guy apparently.) I'll be in Jerusalem for another few days, hopefully through Shabbat, and then I'm heading to Bersheeva, the largest city in the Negev Desert, to visit a friend from the Livnot trip. He's a commander in the Israeli Defense Force, recently released as of two days ago, and is one of the most incredible people I've ever met. I can't wait to spend a few days seeing life in Bersheeva and meeting his fiance.

Well, that about sums up the last week or so, a very eventful and slightly disorienting (or maybe reorienting) week. I hope all of you who are reading this blog are finding great inspiration and joy in life wherever you may be. Out of a desire to share some of the magnificence of this place and the Jewish people in general with all of you, I'm going to include a quote from the book I was referring to in every blog post from now on. I hope it evokes as much thought and wonder for you as it has for me. Till the next post....

"There is only one way to wisdom: awe. The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era. Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in the small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing, the stillness of the eternal."
- Avraham Yehoshua Heschel

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pictures! Pictures! Pictures!

According to the few readers of this blog that I've been in touch with, apparently pictures are a good thing. So, in light of that fact, I present to you... pictures. Here are a few images of the last few weeks in Egypt and a few from Israel. Hope you enjoy.

A newly found family, a tightly formed Chevre!

Petra. Amazing ruins in Jordan.

Three travel companions. One amazing tomb. Petra.

The supposed "burning bush" of Moses. (And my friend's hand.)

Bakers baking the subsidized bread for the Cairo community.

The scene of our feast at Es' house in the West Bank of Luxor.

Sari's, my travel companion through southern Egypt and Sinai, portrait on the Nile.

Family portrait of a Cairo family.

A look at Islamic Cairo from within.

Deliveries & shops in Islamic Cairo.

Playing futbol with the neighborhood kids in Islamic Cairo.

An amazing whirling dervish performance. (And free!)

Mosque of Sultan Hassan on left and Mosque of Al Rifa'i on right.

Inside one of the oldest mosques in Egypt.

An epic scene with best buddy Eli at the pyramids.

So there are a few pictures for the imaginative to work with. The landscape is amazing, the architecture is surreal and the people are out of a Marquez dream. I hope those of you following this blog have found it enjoyable to read and now visually interesting as well. Wishing all of you my best.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Well, we've arrived. Finally back to Israel, having now spent more time away than I have spent in the country. But that's about to change.

Nuweiba was a dream. I would have to remind myself periodically that this was in fact real and I was simply passing through for a brief stay. The beauty was imposing, epic and you began to feel as though life and dreams were interweaving in just about every way. Unforgiving mountains with not a drop of water to spare would meet the bluest and clearest waters with incredible reef lining all along the shoreline. Night skies were brighter than city lights, music was a shared language, and our food swam in the waters just before us. Sinai is a very interesting place, where three distinctly different cultures converge on paradise. There are the Israelis, who about thirty years ago owned Sinai as land taken during conflict with Egypt. Many still feel a deep connection with Sinai and consider it their home away from home. There are the Bedouins, who have inhabitated this very unforgiving land from time immemorial. They have become accustomed to a more "modern" (and I use this in the most minimal sense) life and now rely primarly on tourism as a form of livelihood. However, due to the rising tensions, Israelis don't come to Sinai as much any more and Israelis are the primary tourists, and the preferred tourists by the Bedouins, to this area. Then there are the Egyptians that come to escape the summer heat of Egypt. There is no love loss between the Bedouins and the Egyptian government, as the differing parties with their particular perspectives all converge in this place and attempt to deal harmoniously with one another in order to enjoy the wonder that is Sinai. Your ear hopscotches between Arabic and Hebrew continuously, while English appears so much more heavy laden of a language and thus disposed only to necessity.
The camp we stayed at was called Saba Camp and it was essentially twenty or so huts lined on the beach. Mosquito nets were your best friend at night and the rising sun, with intensity only found in Sinai, would wake you and invite, if not demand, a morning swim as the feeding frenzy around the reef reminded you that some things are indeed quite active in Sinai. The crew that inhabited our camp was quite the eclectic bunch, but a chevre (family) nonetheless. A young married couple living in Tel Aviv came for the weekend, teaching us Israeli card games and welcoming in Shabbat with everything from Hebrew hymns to the Beatles. The head architect of restoration in Jerusalem had brought several of his nephews and their friends (Americans) for a few days. He sat and smoked cigarette after cigarette, speaking about topics of great wonder and inspiration, and gave the most uncanny and insightful Tarot readings to everyone individually throughout the weekend. There was the middle aged couple, having met recently at a rave, that brought a comic and somewhat carnal element to the table. We all enjoyed each other's company, sharing meals, stories, music and the other simplicities that structure your days when the ammenities and distractions of modern life aren't around. And now it's back to the modern world, having arrived in Tel Aviv late last night. I'm currenlty staying with a member of the Chevre from Livnot and making plans for the next six weeks in Israel, which will hopefully include spending a few days with my long lost brother Maximus. We'll see where the next few weeks goes, but I'm hoping to get involved in several programs here in Israel, focused on community service as well as language immersion. I'll be making my way back to Tzfat soon enough to volunteer with Livnot and spend some time in the great mystic town. But for now, the white city of Tel Aviv...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Adrift on the Nile

     Since my last post I have had the opportunity to experience the many wonders and wonderousness (sp?) of Luxor Egypt, which used to be known as Thebes, the ancient capital of Lower Egypt.  We're talking seriously ancient.  And seriously hot as well.  Like 115' F hot!  But we braved the heat and set out to walk the footsteps of Pharoahs past.  After arriving in Luxor on a less than sanitary and staunchly segregated train (we weren't allowed to sit with the Egyptians in second class, but were instead told we had to be in first class with the other "tourists", but if what we had was first class, I don't want to see second class) we rested for the day and then set out on a sunset felugga ride on the Nile.  This felugga ride would single handedly determine the rest of our experience in Luxor.  Our guide, Captain Es, as he liked to be called, was a character of the highest order.  Jovial, loving, and good natured to the core our relationship with Es would more than cross the line from "tourists" to "habibi" (family in Arabic).  After our felugga ride, Es invited us back to his very modest home with his mother, father, sister, and many nieces and nephews for dinner.  By most Western standards they live in pretty drastic poverty, but relative to the West Bank in Luxor they were doing pretty well for themselves.  As I mentioned in the last post, this was the evening of beard "threading", an experience I won't soon forget.  So after our tour of the West Bank the following day, which included the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut, and several other ruins all of which date to around about 2500 BCE, which means they are about four and a half thousand years old.  Ancient!  And inspiring.  And also a bit disturbing as well.  Anyone who takes in these wonders is instantly struck by the magnitude and incredible decadence and thus effort required to erect these places.  But I started to think of all the strife that went into building these colossal buildings.  Slaves' strife.  Blood.  Sweat.  Tears.  Certain death, there can be no doubt.  Working in this heat to build something that the Pharoah believes his immortality is riding on.  The agony and pain that must have been inflicted upon those that actually built these temples with their bare hands... suddenly the walls look a little different.  They're still magnificent in their craftmanship and historical value, but they begin to seem trivial and extremely egomanical.  I don't want to deter anyone from seeing these ruins.  They are quite simply incredible and there is nothing else like it.  But it's bizarre when you realize all this was done to essentially "buy" immortality and in doing so their cost to people's lives is immeasurable.  Just a random thought from a plebian passing through.  
       The next day... more ruins.  Karnack Temple, the oldest temple in Egypt and one of the most incredible sites I have ever beheld, a massive temple that many different Pharoahs added to in an effort to one up the previous Pharoah to demonstrate their greatness.  We're talking "jaw-dropping-can't-believe-this-actually-exists-and-people-are-the-source-of-it" big.  After Karnack we headed over to Luxor Temple, it's smaller and just as impressive cousin.  They are actually connected by a 3 km road that used to play host to a huge procession in ancient times when priests would drink and be merry and carry the statue of the Sun God, Amun-Ra, and his wife from Karnack to Luxor for a 24 day "honeymoon".  Apparently on one of these visits the Moon God was conceived.  Yeah for the moon god! 

     After a day of exploring temples and ruins and only hours before catching an all night train back to Cairo as we now begin to make our way back to Israel (oh how sweet it will be), we met back up with our faithful captain Es for a final ride, brought to us courtesy of his hospitality.  After sailing to the West bank for dinner, we set out for our final sunset on the Nile.  We parked the boat in some marsh, got out and bathed/waded in the Nile.  After watching the sun set from within the Nile, we all laid together on the front bow of the sailboat and watched the stars grow brighter and brighter.  Here Es started singing some of the Arabic songs he had taught us and we in turn sang the responses he had taught us.  He sang another song that he translated for us as being thankful for the many brothers and sisters Allah brings into our lives.  He then asked us, in his broken English, to teach him some songs.  We decided to share with him several of the incredibly beautiful Hebrew songs that we sang with the Livnot trip.  Strikingly they meant the very same thing.  Arabic & Hebrew.  Muslim & Jewish.  Both so beautiful and so similar in so many ways.  Es just stared off as we sang him our songs.  As we finished and silence decended, I looked across the river and a sliver of the brightest, reddest, fullest moon I have ever seen began to rise steadily over the water.  When I saw this I unconsciously let out an "Oh my God!"  As Es turned to see what I was talking about, in a strikingly similar tone he said "Sapon Allah", the exact same sentence in Arabic.  We were collectively humbled and unmistakably aware of how beautiful this experience we were sharing was.   There we sat, after having just shared unprecedented intimacy, and watched the full moon rise over the Nile in silence.  It was an experience without comparison.
     As the moon cast her light onto the river, Es and I began to row our sailboat back across the river to the East bank so we could catch our night train.  We said goodbye to our newly acquired friend, vowing to send pictures when we get back to America, and set off to Cairo.  And that is where we are now.  I lucked out with a really great find on a website called Couch Surfing and am being hosted by an amazing guy here in Cairo with an amazing penthouse apartment that overlooks the entire city.  He's a photographer (bit of a kindred spirit) and has been an amazing help to us as we now prepare to head to Nuweiba Sinai for a few days of being in the middle of nowhere with local Bedouins on the Red Sea.  Apparently the norm is to sleep in huts on the sand, hang out with local Bedouins who will go out and catch your dinner for you for a fair price.  Should be lots of interesting travelers, some music around the campfire, the quintessential bright stars of the Sinai and then back to Israel.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Egypt On My Mind

What can you say after a week in Egypt? Things are very... interesting. After the Sinai climb, my two travel companions and I set out on an all night bus journey for Cairo. I seemed to have left my health somewhere on top of the mountain so needless to say it was a very enjoyable bus ride. We arrived in Cairo at around 6 am, seemingly the only hour Cairo is relatively calm. After parting through all the jockeying taxi drivers, we wandered the streets of downtown Cairo until Mustafa, who would become the archnemesis to one of my travel companions, plucked us off the street and gave us a deal "we couldn't refuse" at his hostel. We made up our hours of sleep and eventually headed out to take in some of the sights and sounds. Cairo was hot and bustling by then and we were little prepared for the chaos that regularly orders this enchanting yet aggrevating place. The next day we went wandering Islamic Cairo, where the architecture is like anywhere else in the world and time is cloaked in many different masks. The beauty of Islamic Cairo is similar to what I imagined 1001 Arabian Nights to be like as a child. Minarets echoing calls to prayer through tiny alley ways lined with shops of every kind, weaving its way around opening up to awe striking mosques every several hunderd feet. There are kids riding bikes with hundreds of loaves of bread on their heads, pppppsssssssss air through their teeth dividing the crowds they ride through. Men line the streets smoking 'sheesha' with little else to do. And the mosques are simply incredible. From the invading bustle you step through a single, though enormous, doorway and inside instant serenty and silence. Over the next several days we visited many mosques, ranging in age from 8th Century CE to the 19th Century. As the sun sank on the second day and temperatures dropped with it, we found are way to the Al-Ghouli cultural house for a free performance of whirling dervishes. I apologize that I cannot upload the images from that performance because I am writing this from an internet cafe computer. It was a magnificent performance, dervishes of many different colors and levels of advancement dancing while drumming while others were in upper balconies playing essential Arabic music. It was an incredible sight to see.
The next day we went through the National Egyptian Museum in Cairo and took in the copious decadence of Tutenkhamen. After a day at the museum we set out for the citadel to view the mosque of Muhammed Ali (not the boxer). As we stood up on the citadel and looked out over Cairo, Turkish mosques dotted the cityscape, Mamuluk graves portioned off sections of this bustling city to ultimate abandoment, and the ancient pyramids stood in the distance. Three major empires. One city.
The next day we did what any person that comes to Cairo does... we went to the pyramids. It's true, they are impressive. Such incredible feats, so many tourists. Unfortunately some of the majesty of these structures is lost by all the tourists and hustlers that accompany said tourists, but it is incredible to stand in the presence of something so awe inspiring. We had fun taking quite impressive pictures that I'll be sure to post next time. Let's just say, men floating next to the pyramids. It was interesting.
It was here that I had to say goodbye to my two trusted travel companions Ben & Eli. They were on a shorter time line and longed to be back in the embrace of Israel. So as they headed back to Tel Aviv, I prepared to go further into Egypt, picking up another travel companion along the way. We headed out Sunday night, having said our goodbyes to Cairo and all its madness, and headed to Luxor, the modern version of ancient Thebes. Ruins are abundant and the heat is devistating. We're are currently right on the Nile Valley, right next to the Luxor Temple. When we arrived in Luxor, once again going through the rigamarole of hoteliers and taxi drivers, we found a place to stay, rested through the heat of the day, and set out on a felucca ride (a mini sail boat) down the Nile for sunset. Our captain was quite the character and after our journey had ended he insisted on taking us back to his house in the West bank for dinner. We agreed and thus set out on a journey of a different sort.
When we arrived at his house, his family greeted us very warmly and with little language, as we speak no Arabic and they very sparse English. Their house was a very small home and very modest, even by Egyptian standards. After meeting the family and eating some dinner, the captain insisted on taking me to a friends place to trim up my wildly growing beard. We arrive three deep on a motorcycle, having left my female travel companion back at his house with his sister, and the friend kindly opened his shop, where a single chair sat centered within turqouise blue walls with a hugh painting of Jesus as a shepard on the door behind the chair. It was a room that deserved to be in movies. I sat down, he lit a cigarette, and turned on some beautiful Arabic music. He gestured to some string, I nodded and what ensued I didn't even know was possible. Holding string in his mouth, he 'threaded' my face, clasping hair within the strings and rolling them so that he hair is pulled out of your face. Yes, it was quite painful. He did this around the ears, eyebrows, the entire forehead, etc. Then he powdered my face, lathered my neck, ashed his cigarette, and began cleaning up the unattended mess that was my neck. It was quite the experience and I have to say, it looks much better. So much so that today when we were touring the Valley of the Kings (a huge necropolis of former Pharoahs) two people separately commented on how nice my beard and moustache was. They have an eye for these things apparently.
That brings us to present. Today we went and toured the West bank of Luxor, seeing the Valley of the Kings and several other ancient temples. Our captain hooked us up with a driver and we were very well taken care of. We'll enjoy our last day in Luxor tomorrow and then begin heading back to the land of milk and honey. I look forward to returning to Israel even more than my initial arrival. It is a place of such love, common understanding, and spirit that the term "nation" does it little justice. That is the update for now. All the Egyptian people I have met want me to personally invite all of you to Egypt. They love Obama here by the way. Usually the first words out of anyone's mouth when you say your an American. "O-Bama, very good!"

Till the next post.... "Sha Allah" as they say here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

An Entry of A Different Kind


A little note before you read further...  I sat down to write a blog entry because it's been about a week since I last wrote and I've been wanting to keep friends and family up to date.  As you can imagine, traveling everyday in this part of the world, days start to take on different meaning, and by the time a week is up, it feels like a lifetime has passed.  Scenes are different.  Smells are different.  You're either really tired the moment you sit down to write, or rushed, or overwhelmed and unable to process everything you're experiencing.  It is simply intense, everyday it's intense in every possible way and the task of putting it into words seems utterly exhausting on top of it all.  So there is that to keep in mind as you read.  
    For an update:  We are now in Cairo and have been here for two days.  It is an indescribably intense and insufferably hot place.  After two days of hectic adjustments from all night travels, we found ourselves in Islamic Cairo this evening.  This scene is going to have to be for another post, I haven't yet been able to process what I saw today and thus cannot really write about it (there is definitely a several day lag between your initial experience and when you are able to begin to take in).  In short Islamic Cairo is a mix of amazing Medieval architecture, dirty crowded alleyways, never ending shuks (bazaars) with men desperately trying to get you into their stores, all accented by the occasional call to prayer serenading from atop minarets dotting every corner of the narrow sky.  We wandered through Islamic Cairo until we arrived at the Mausoleum Al-Ghouli for a free Sufi Whirling Dervish performance.  It was incredible and I plan to write about it very soon.  However, as I came back to the hostel this evening and sat down to write a post, the following is what came out.  I thought about editing, possibly cutting it and keeping it for my own personal writings and writing a more "practical" update filled with the "what's" and the "where's" and the "when's".  But I decided instead just to leave it.  It is genuine and thus accurate.  I hope you enjoy and catch a glimpse into what this experience has been like thus far.  I thank you for reading and will try with greater effort to put these experiences and thoughts into words to share with those interested in reading them...

 'So, it's been a week.  And what a week.  After arriving in Dahab for a few days of re-coup, several friends and myself headed out for a sunrise hike of Mt. Sinai.  As we drove through the midnight desert, pitch black darkness brought out equally bright stars.  We took turns leaning our heads out the large side van windows, holding on to the luggage rack as we dangled in awe under the canopy of stars.  From horizon to horizon a bright white dusty band connected the two skies.  Our own galaxy smiling back at us.  We all lay in amazement.  Thinking about this moment.  Just a moment.  And yet, there are innumerable moments.  But in this moment, there was such depth, such magnificence, experience simply overflowed, as if a gallon were poured into a cup.
     As our two hour ride under a starry night sky came to an end, we were greeted with tour buses on all sides, coming from all countries, all faiths & all ages.  Devout and curious alike, lines of tourists began making their way in droves with guides leading, modern torches lit, towards the "camel path", a slight incline ramp wrapping around the mountain were many prefer the camel's labor to their own, culminating in a 700 foot mountainside stairway.  A 1 am hike with tons of youth church groups.  So much for serenity.
    Then we met our guide.  Quite and kind.  Before we set off on our hike we mention to our guide that we'd like to take the "Steps of Repentance", a travel book recommendation I read about.  He look surprised.  He repeated our statement to us in the form of a question.  I answered, "Yes please."  He nodded and we walked on, veering to the right and breaking away from the lot.  We begin climbing a much steeper incline... alone.  3000 steps carved out by 5th Century Orthodox monks living at St. Katherine's Monastery, nestled at the base of the mountain, built around what is believed to be the "burning bush" of the Exodus story, where twelve monks still reside today, a site we were privileged to take in after our descent six hours later.  Following the sandals of Massud, our soft spoken guide, the five of us climbed straight up the side of Mt. Sinai for almost two hours.  Complete silence.  Complete solitude.  Complete awe.  There simply aren't words.  So I won't try.  But I can offer a picture.  Boulders as big as time is old.  The Milky Way pouring out of the jagged shadowy mountain horizon, reaching across the entire night sky, like a starry rainbow.  Thighs that burned with repentance and knees that tightened like rubber-bands.  And silence.  Active silence. 
     As we reached the top there were several other groups, the 'fast' camel path walkers.  Our serenity was being chipped away.  During the final ascent we were pretty well mixed in with several other groups, flashlights intertwined like strings of dots connecting the top to where we found ourselves.  Once we reached the top and groups began to congregate, our guide asked us if we wanted to be "with lots of other people" or "alone".  That was literally his question.  When we quickly opted for the latter, he took us 'his' way, down some very narrow, very ancient stairs, and over several large boulders, away from the crowd out onto a rock ledge just big enough for the five of us, jetting out far enough to the north for an unobstructed view of the east.  I'm sure our dreams would have come far short.  
     We all huddled together, wrapped in blankets (3 am on top of a desert mountain) and we laid together in awe, of the hike we just experienced and the stars we were now laying under.  In awe of the the life that we are each living.  That we have each been given.  Given has never been more clear.  I was actively trying to experience, as much as I was able, knowing that with every breath something was absolutely escaping me.  I was, by definition, overwhelmed.  Left in a state of complete, thoughtless awe.  Laying, side by side with friends I did not know three weeks ago but now cannot imagine not knowing in the future, under the brightest night sky I've ever seen, waiting for sunrise to reach Sinai.

A brief cold restless hour and a half and the east began to grow brighter and brighter.  As the mountaintop began to stir with the whispers and clamors of excited pilgrims, we rose to greet this day, on top of Mt. Sinai.  After several minutes of anticipation, the sun pierced the horizon and rose steady, sweeping over the majestic barren desert mountain range between us.  Celebration.  We greeted the day in ways most fitting of ourselves, with hugs and cheers, pictures and laughs.  But there were other people on the mountain as well.  And they were greeting this day in ways most fitting for their lives.  I was first struck by the cries and wails of the Nigerian Evangelicalists, wrapped in all white robes, lamenting with melodies I simply cannot produce but yet recognize deep within myself.  I climbed up from our privileged place of solitude and found clusters of people embracing this morning on Sinai.   As I looked to my right there were Nigerians, dressed like angels, lining the walls at the edge the cliff, getting as close to the sun as is humanly possible on this mountain.  I looked to my left and saw three people huddled together in a sitting circle, hands held, bibles in lap.  A father, his daughter (maybe 17), and a woman in her mid-thirties appearing to have a platonic relationship with both.  They were gathered in a small circle, hand in hand, each taking turns praying, each with precise intention and emphasis.  The man began to pray in a muffled quiet while the background echoed with the cries of the Nigerians releasing their souls atop this 'holy' ground.  As he prayed his face clinched, his hands doing the same, a feeling instantly shared by his daughter and their relative, and tears began to stream down his cheeks as his prayer grew more vehement.  They appeared to be either in mourning or desperation.  As I tried to take in this scene, the depth of meaning for everyone involved, the different expressions of "holiness", a Japanese tourist family walked by me, smiling cordially, quite amused by all the antics.  I thought, "This is either the epicenter.  Or a vortex."  
      Also amused by the Nigerians were the several "mountain boys" who make their living off renting you blankets, thin mats, selling you coffee, candy or sweatshirts on top of the mountain.  Sitting with several of their buddies, smoking cigarettes while on break before having to lead everyone back down the mountain again, they sit and enjoy the Nigerian Evangelicals wailing and singing, hallelujahs rising sharply out of African cadence.  And here I stand.  In the middle of all these people, taking one step to the left and one step to the right, admiring and trying to understand the pronounced diversity huddled around the top of this single mountain, a mountain among countless other mountains, surrounded by several taller mountains.  But this is a 'holy' mountain.  And as I stood on this "holy" mountain, limp camera in hand, I felt overwhelmed and slightly out of place, yet at the same time feeling there was never a better moment to connect.  So I walked back down to where my friends had remained, passing them by as one did yoga, another meditating while two others slept, and I walked out onto a ledge on the other side of the mountain.  Isolated and hovering over vast space below.  There I sat, silence wrapping itself around every existent thing.  Here I offered what I had to offer.  Celebrated what I had to celebrate.  And mourned what I had to mourn.  And it was here that I felt connected.  Connected with myself.  This moment.  And this life.'