Cultural Crossing-Points

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I have spent a seriously enjoyable five days in Eilat. I never got to see the coach station (the prime point of immediate adverse first impression for most) and due to a nasty virulent record-breaking sore throat, never made it hiking into the hills. I walked the length of the naval base and dockyards but never managed to stroll the suburban hinterland.

I’m pleased about this. It gives me a good excuse to come back another time in the middle of the winter and experience the joy of a January swim in the sea.

But what I’ve most enjoyed about my Eilat experience is its position as a point of cultural and geographic intersection. Given my constant wifi access issues, I haven’t been able to google the Spice Route or other ancient trading routes, but I’ve no doubt for centuries this area has been an important staging post for traders and travellers.

These days of course it’s more a destination than a halfway house. The resorts on the Red Sea are all popular holiday destinations for visitors worldwide, and Eilat is no exception.

We were, for example, intrigued by the numbers of Russian non-Jewish visitors. Until we remembered the number of Russian-origin Israelis means there’s a great Russian infrastructure here, so no language problems to worry about.

Yesterday, we went to the Marine Observatory just down the coast. Yet again I was forcibly struck – and heartened – by the multicultural mix of visitors to this tourist hotspot. In the space of a few minutes, I observed Africans in traditional dress, religiously observant Jews and Arab Israelis all mingling happily with the usual Western hotchpotch of sightseers in pursuit of holiday pleasures.

Of course, I don’t know how all these visitors feel, and maybe it’s presumptuous and a touch patronising of me to assume everyone feels comfortable and is having a great time.

But they certainly all looked as though they were having a ball.

And in Israel and in the broader context of the Middle East, that’s rather a nice souvenir to leave with.

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