In the morning a Bedouin driver came to pick us up from the hotel. The trip from Sharm El Sheikh to Saint Catherine took about two-and-a-half hours, and there were quite a few roadblocks along the way. In the past, these checkpoints used to make me anxious, because the driver has to report to the police at the checkpoint regarding the identity of the passengers in the car.
And when he would say “Hada el-Yahud” (these are Jews). My insides would turn over. “Itbah el-Yahud” (kill the Jews) immediately came to my mind.
The fear of Arabs is deeply rooted in me. And this fear actually controlled me. That’s how I grew up. That’s what I heard. That’s how I looked at the world, and I couldn’t see beyond that. But several years ago I decided to confront this fear, and stop letting it rule my life.
I agreed not to see all Arabs as haters, as enemies.
It took time. Such a core belief takes time and patience to dismantle. And to be honest, we may always carry remnants of deep-rooted beliefs. But from the moment I chose to try to see things differently, I saw results. And from one Sinai visit to the next, I felt how the fear moved a little to the side and made room for other things: Outdoor beauty; conversations and new acquaintances with other interesting people; meeting different cultures.
And the heart opens and expands, and we experience people and the world differently. And the thought that keeps coming to my mind is: “We are all one.” We were all created in the image of God. At our core we are no different. On the contrary, as you get closer to people, you realize that we have similar needs, the same concerns, and a great desire to get to know each other.
On the most recent trip in Sinai, when we went to Saint Catherine, we once again passed checkpoints. For some reason the driver no longer says “Hada el-Yahud,” but now replies with “Shin” which has come to mean “Jewish Israelis” in the slang between taxi drivers and policemen. And it sounds softer and much less threatening.
The journey to Saint Catherine is spectacular. Very high mountains on both sides. A desolate desert and a road that never ends. The biggest disappointment for me was actually the place itself. When we got close, we discovered that we were not the only ones. Dozens of buses full of tourists from all over the world were parked there.
We saw hundreds of pilgrims who came from India for a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the holy places in Israel and Egypt. Saint Catherine has become a pilgrimage destination. It has gotten onto many people’s “bucket list.” The large number of visitors changes the whole atmosphere, and all the holiness and magic that you feel on the way there. The monastery is only open to the public three hours a day. So all the traffic is concentrated in those three hours. Just imagine. Twenty-two monks live inside the monastery. Twenty from Greece, one from Syria and one from Armenia. I imagine that it must not be much fun to decide on a life of seclusion in a place like the Saint Catherine Monastery, and then find yourself in a site full of tourists instead. And this explains why there is only a three-hour visitation window each day.
The Bedouins enthusiastically told us the story of Aaron, Moses’ brother who built the golden calf while Moses was up on the mountain. As we departed, the driver took us to the place where a calf was carved on the mountain.
On the way back we asked the driver to find us an authentic place to eat, and not a crowded tourist restaurant. He was amazing and arranged for us to eat with a Bedouin family that lives just off this beautiful road. We were welcomed there, and were treated to Bedouin hospitality as usual. This included hot and delicious fresh food, a hearty conversation, and meeting good people.
I understand a little Arabic, and was happy to be able to chat a little with the women at this home. They brought out their handiwork (bags and purses) which were beautiful, and I purchased purses for me and three of my best friends. We returned to Sharm El Sheikh happy and full of experiences.
And I felt more of my fears dispersing along with the clouds in the desert sky.
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