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Bikinis and burkas in the Garden of Eden
August 31st, 2012
On a recent trip to Israel to visit my sisters they took me to one of the most beautiful places in the Lower Galilee called Gan Hashlosha, otherwise known in Arabic as Sachne.
Part of Gan Hashlosha. Photo by Melanie Wasserman.
Many believe that Gan Hashlosha is the real-world location of the Garden of Eden. It’s beautiful pools are shaded by lush palm trees, surrounded by green lawns and flanked by Mount Gilboa.
The stunning aquamarine colored pools are fed by natural springs, which rise within the park at a temperature of a constant 82 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.
En route to Gan Hashlosha, we traveled through Umm-al-Fahm, an Arab city with a population of 45,300 and often thought to be the stronghold of the Islamic Movement. As we drove throught the city and stopped at various traffic lights I felt slightly uncomfortable and anxious.
During the days prior to this trip, my conversations with friends and family were frought with their concerns about their frustrations and fears of living with the Arab Israeli conflict as well as their concerns of how the Arab Spring could affect Israel.
My sisters live in Ra’anana an affluent suburb north of Tel Aviv. Ra’anana is also approximately eight miles from Qalqilya, a Palistinian city in the West Bank where in March 2008, Israel captured Omar Jabar the Hamas bomber who masterminded the 2002 Passover Massacre in Netanya, an attack in which 30 Israelis were killed and 143 were wounded while celebrating a seder.
Against this backdrop, my anxiety, while traveling throughn Umm-al-Fahm, did not seem unfounded. “Living with the enemy” is a phrase that best described my thoughts, and I was glad the furthur away from the city we drove.
What I soon experienced at Gan Hashlosha briefly alleviated my fears and offered a surrreal glimpse into a microcosm of peaceful coexistance.
Upon entering Gan Hashlosha I was stuck by both its physical beauty and images of bikini-clad Israelis and Arabs picnicning and swimming side by side, the contrast of which seemed unreal.
While wading through one of the aquamerine pools I heard Arabic being spoken by a fair skinned lady with red hair wearing a bikini. She was sitting with other bikini-clad, Arabic-speaking women, who seemed indifferent to the burka-clad group of women sharing the same picinic spot with their husbands and children.
My curiosity got the better of me and I was compelled to ask the the Arabic-speaking lady with red hair why her group were not wearing burkas. She explained with a smile that they were Christian Arabs from Haifa and that the ladies sitting near her were Muslims Arabs from Umm-al-Fahm. Her family had lived in the Galilee for three generations.
She was curious about me, and while she had never heard of Milwaukee, Chicago was familiar to her. Before long a few of her friends gathered around and listened and shared in our brief conversation. While there was very little interaction between the Israelis and Arabs they were polite and respectful of each other’s space.
When I later shared this observation with my sister Glenda Sacks, Ph.D., who has taught pedagogy to Arab students at a teachers training college, she described similar experiences of friendliness and co-operation, while emphsizing that an invisiable but palpable wall exists.
The therapist side of me could not help me view the Arab-Israeli conflict as a cross-culteral marriage gone wrong. Given the generations of hostility and mistrust, a peaceful coexistance seems elusive.
However, my experience at Gan Hashlosha gave me a glimpse into a peaceful microcosm of two nations, side by side, enjoying nature, and where both bikinis and burkas were acceptable.
If these two extreme attitudes and dress could live peacefully side by side, like the lambs and lions of the Garden of Eden, what a divine place the Middle East would be.
Melanie Wasserman, MSW, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Milwaukee.