I could always recognize the Big Dipper. There were certain days where I would be able to walk outside into my backyard, and the sky was cloudless. The North Star would always shine brightest, and from there, I could just make out the rest of the iconic spoon shape. I was always impressed by it, by how characteristic it was, and how it actually stood out and looked like a large Dipper. But other days, I would look up and only see clouds. And there was never a day when I could any constellation beyond that one. That day finally came, and it was halfway across the world when I saw a sky filled with stars, constellations, and beauty.
As our Israel Trek group walked off the bus and into the Judean Desert, we were hit with a prepared campsite, rocky terrain, and mountains all around us. For a moment, we were all completely alone. We had stepped away from the busy cities of Jerusalem and Bethleham, and we were just a trek group in the middle of nowhere. This realization was calming, as it was a stark difference from the rest of the jam-packed trip. And the best part was looking up at the sky. There were stars in every part of it, from edge to edge. It was as if the sky was a canvas, and a child had painted it with polka-dots. I saw the Big Dipper in the clearest way I’d ever seen it. Never had I seen such empty skies, and that reinforced how far away we were from cities and civilization. After a bit more observing, I even saw the Little Dipper, for the first time in my life.
Sleeping that night, under the stars (I opted to sleep on top of a hill away from the tents) was an unforgettable experience. You think about the significance of these stars, when they would guide people home centuries ago, and you think about how fog and smoke has nearly wiped them away from view in major cities. And you think about how beautiful Israel is. The stark difference between this landscape and Tel Aviv is almost a metaphor for the varied people of the country, something we became privy to over the week. The regions were completely different, but they lived side by side, and they embodied the vibrancy of the Middle Eastern region.
Funnily enough, we actually discovered a rave happening in the desert only a few hills away, and we ran into a Yale Israel Trek group a bit further away. There were massive parties going on in this secluded area, and they seemed like they were having a great time. But when we assembled into our small groups to talk about where we were, the noise and parties vanished in my head, and it finally hit me that I was in Israel. I was in a place where civilizations grew, flourished, collapsed, and rebuilt. I was in a place where I saw the Little Dipper, something that had eluded me all my childhood.
In a country full of confusion and questions, on a trip packed with ideas and perspectives, this night in the desert was something special. Before going on this trip, I imagined a country where conflict was the theme, but the Judean Desert proved to me that this was a country no different than any other. It shed perspective on the rest of the trip, that in a country with so many stories, there is always solitude and normalcy close by. There is still something constant over the entire world: the feeling of being in a desert, away from everything. I left the trip with a wealth of knowledge, and no certainty behind what the answer was to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Desert night gave me time to soak it all in, feel the earth beneath me, and see the Little Dipper.