documenting strange times, pt. 1

Hi wonderful people— I hope you are safe and well out there.

Can I ask you a (maybe personal) question? I’m going to assume yes. I’ve been thinking about processing methods a lot lately (because let’s be honest, there’s a shit-ton to process right now), and I’m curious:

How are you processing this moment in time? 

At a foundational level, I think many humans process the world through documentation. We make sense of our conditions by taking stock. This comes in many forms. Some are artistic (writing, photography, sketching, video), while others are quantitative (data collection), social (relaying stories to friends, passing down family folk-lore), or the product of our technological age (Instagram-ming, Tick-tock-ing…is it a verb yet? idk). Sometimes we document to engage in later analysis or share our experiences with the world. Other times, documentation has no external purpose. It is simply a way for us to see ourselves, a silent nod of self-validation.

My default processing (documentation) method has always been writing: journaling, blogging, brain-dumping thoughts on tiny folded up pieces of paper, opening a million one-sentence “Notes” in my iPhone app. And since March, when COVID hoop-la surfaced in California, I’ve been writing like a madwoman. But I’ve also begun to crave creative new ways to document this strange and uncertain time.

One medium I’ve discovered? iPhone screenshots. Without even realizing it, I’ve been “journaling” my COVID shelter-in-place experience through screenshots since early March. Funny, random, heartbreaking, comforting, and poignant. Looking at them as a set now, these screenshots (and their corresponding timestamps) are the mind’s modern-day polaroid: instant snapshots of what I was thinking about, resonating with, or responding to. A record of fleeting moments I wanted to save to see again.

Here they are, below.

Also, if you’re so inclined, please let me know how you’re processing or documenting. (Or, if you’re like one of my best friends, who said “I’ll tell you how I’m processing— I’m NOT”, well, then please tell me how you’re not processing and what you feel. That counts too!) I can’t wait to hear from you!

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[March 7] I was monitoring travel restrictions to Israel in anticipation of a spring trip I had planned. A few days later Israel closed its borders to nearly everyone (not just NY, WA, CA). At the time, reading this article was bizarre. I remember thinking “What? How the hell can they even operationalize that?” Now, obviously, the concept of international travel in itself feels bizarre.

 

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[March 9] Still monitoring travel restrictions, I came across this timely PSA from February. I remember laughing and thinking to myself “There’s no way this won’t all be over by Passover [April].” How wrong I was.

 

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[March 10] This note notification popped up randomly on my screen. I was having a rough day. The reminder that we “never know” what good or bad may come our way felt serendipitous. I can tell you confidently that on March 10, I really had no idea.

 

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[March 11] The world felt like it was screeching to a halt this week. Everything was changing so quickly. I spent a lot of time thinking about how COVID might be a dress rehearsal for the end of the world. This quote resonated.

 

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[March 13] FaceTiming took on a whole new meaning this week. I added the term “social-distancing” to my vocabulary. On this call, we were guessing how long the world would be in this state. Even the least optimistic of us (me) guessed we’d be back to normal by summer.

 

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[March 18] My cousin moved from NYC to Portland and bought a Tesla. My grandma emailed us a dual picture of her father at a young age with his car. Things felt connected through time.

 

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[March 27] On Instagram, masses of bored people were posting #rough pictures of themselves, captioned “Until Tomorrow” (they would take down the photo the next day). I joined in with not one, but 15 photos. Why not.

 

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[March 30] FaceTiming with my original Israel gals (minus @Hannah). Earlier this year we were scheming a 2020 reunion for the five of us in NYC. Now it looks like we’ll have to stick to virtual.

 

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[April 3] G-bless my Grandma’s humor. I also love the email subject line. I hope you are all very OK too.

 

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[April 5] There’s been a lot of endless scrolling on social media. This is a post from 2018 I liked on a Costa Rican farm’s page. LESS seems like a good lesson for now.

 

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[April 9] I like looking at the mosaics of photos I’ve saved from other people’s accounts on Instagram. It’s like a living collage. Here there’re photos of yoga, child Holocaust survivors, Bar Rafeli pregnant (future pregnancy fashion goalz), fluffy dogs, and an important reminder: “You don’t have to use this time to ‘improve’ yourself.” Noted.

 

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[April 14] Another good reminder. I believe, at our core, this is what most of us really want.

 

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[April 14] A lot of old emotional baggage bubbles up when you’re stuck at home for weeks on end. Working on self-compassion is not some fluffy-flower-girl thing. It’s tough shit. Here are some resources.

 

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[April 24] This is from a NYT piece titled “When Life Felt Normal: Your Pre-Pandemic Moments.” I must have screenshotted it just because the room looks so peaceful. I miss being in beautiful spaces with other people. Especially yoga studios.

 

 

 

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[April 25] I remember seeing this headline and thinking “This is certainly a situation I never thought we’d find ourselves in.” Also, is it just me, or has no one heard anything about the election for like…months?

 

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[April 25] These photos, from a NYT piece titled “Denuded of Tourists, Paris Reveals Its Old Beating Heart”, made me feel quiet, still, hopeful, and peaceful. Some of the world’s most trafficked places are returning to their stewards: their residents.

 

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[April 28] FaceTime fatigue is a real thing. Which is why you need to keep it light and funny sometimes, too.

 

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[April 28] “The virus has collapsed distances.” This quote made me cry. How true, in so many ways.

 

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[May 2] This title made me think about all the accomplishments and celebrations (e.g. graduations) that people are experiencing alone right now. They are “Blooming Lonely” like the trees.

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[May 3] From a NYT piece, titled “My Restaurant Was My Life for 20 Years. Does the World Need It Anymore?”. Heartbreaking words that made me think about the overturn of our economy and precious small businesses. What will the world look like when “she wakes up”?

 

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[May 6] I sent a copy of this print (from the Oakland artist People I’ve Loved) to my best friend for her birthday. It’s titled “Lift Each Other Up.” We all need it right now.

 

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[May 9] As most of the country begins to face optional trade-offs, Silicon Valley is still mostly locked-down…I oscillate between jealousy and gratitude.

 

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[May 9] I needed this validation the other day. I’m a firm believer in sometimes Losing It.

 

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[May 9] Our beloved friend and neighborhood school secretary Anna started this GoFundMe to raise money for children whose parents are unable to provide food for their households. If you are able to, please contribute. All together now.

To be continued…stay tuned…love you all.

 

2020 updates in our new, wild world

Hi wonderful people— I hope you are healthy and safe.

It’s been a minute (or a few months!). My last post from November— written on the tail end of my most recent Israel stint— simply seems so long ago. You might empathize: 2019 feels like it was a different era.

Like so many of us, I predicted that 2020 would be bright and light, with its aesthetically aligned numbers and decade of fresh promise. I thought things would go one way. But then, for better and for worse, they went another. (Is that not the story of everything, always?). In the midst of COVID-19, I relay the following updates not to garner pity or congratulations, but rather as a reminder that beneath the hysteria of the pandemic, there are other sorrows and joys that 2020 has brought each of us. The world, indeed, remains spinning.

So here we go…

🌟 The first week of 2020, my best friend’s mom had emergency open-heart surgery. The operation was surprising and stressful, but successful. Instantaneously, I recognized the fragility of life, more intimately than I ever had before. After she made it through, I clapped my hands and hugged people tighter. With relief, I closed my eyes and thought, “This will be the biggest thing of our 2020”.

🌟 The second week of 2020, I turned 24. I reflected on my 23rd year with pride and gratitude. Following tradition, I brainstormed 24 happy things to do in my 24th year and started down the list. I celebrated with friends and family, hikes, art projects, Pakistani food, dog walks, and coconut ice cream Sundays.

🌟 The third week of 2020, our life-long neighbor (who was more like my cousin-brother, a “sibling of circumstance”) died tragically and unexpectedly at 19. I closed my eyes and knew definitively, “This will be the biggest thing of our 2020. Of my entire young adult life.” The mourning was (is) profound. I grieved and grieve for him, for his family, for us, for our family, for me. For the loss of innocence. For the lack of second chances. For the realization that none of us are necessarily entitled to a long life.

🌟 The seventh week of 2020, I dove into the job search. After a few months of working as the assistant manager of a (beloved) Palo Alto yoga studio, I was ready to find a full-time role. I wanted back into the fascinating world of transportation and sustainable environmental design. Coached by wise parents and brilliant family friends, I started having my “50 cups of coffee.” The networking and interviewing process was relentlessly exciting and exhausting. Within weeks, I found myself with the very privileged choice between a few incredible companies. And on the day before the COVID-19 forced Silicon Valley tech to 100% work from home, I signed an awesome offer from Waymo (formerly the Google[x] self-driving car project). The timing couldn’t have been better. I closed my eyes with excitement and relief, and said, “Yet another big thing for 2020.”

🌟 The eleventh week of 2020, as COVID-19 hit the Bay Area full-force, and the yoga studio closed its doors, our management team scrambled to transition to Zoom live-streamed classes. In a matter of days, the 25-year-old small business resembled a fully remote tech start-up. We reinvented how we operated, staffed, monetized, communicated, and taught. It was scrappy, fast-paced, and remarkably rewarding: 300 people tuned in for our first live-streamed class. Thousands more people— mosaics of little smiling faces on the Zoom window— have joined in since (join us, HERE!). And while I’m wrapping up my work with them to go to Waymo, it gives me great pride to know that at such a critical time I helped provide our community the movement and meditation they needed. In the past days, I’ve frequently closed my eyes, smiled, and thought, “What a big, positive thing for 2020.”

🌟 It is now the fourteenth week of 2020. I had planned to be in Israel right now, spending five weeks with friends and family— namely with my sister who was living in Jerusalem. But now she’s back in California. And I’m not going anywhere— never mind leaving the country. Instead, very soon, I’ll start my job with Waymo (HUGE silver linings!). Until then, I am in the privileged position of taking things slow— walking, reading, cooking, sleeping, tackling a long list of over-due to-dos, and taking extra time to focus on the personal positives, lessons, and “ah-ha” moments of our world gone awry.

In 2050, I imagine people will look back and exclaim, “Oh, 2020, what a year!” And I know (or at least I hope) I’ll be there too, nodding in agreement, for all my own reasons— COVID-19 related and not. You can likely empathize that even now, I nod. I know it’s only April. I know it’s only the fourteenth week. But I already feel like I can say with confidence, sadness, grief, excitement, hope, and happiness, “What a year. What a world.”

52 days, 700+ miles, 10 lessons

If you somehow evaded my daily Instagram & Facebook posts from the Israel National Trail, allow me to start by informing you that I finished the whole darn thing. Done! Finito. I’m still kinda pinching myself it’s over.

It took me 52 days to hike 700+ miles from Kibbutz Dan (northern Lebanese-Israeli border) to Eilat (southern tip of Israel). These metrics include a few rest/weather days and exclude an incalculable number of additional miles (the result of getting lost three times a day…minimum). They also exclude the unquantifiable and more memorable aspects of the trail: the boundless generosity of strangers, the vastness of changing landscapes, the challenges of terrain, the joys of friendship, and the lessons learned along the way. I feel so privileged.

I’ve spent the days since I finished the trail playing mental catch-up, slowly digesting an experience that was both radically simple and entirely overwhelming. In an effort to quantify the unquantifiable, I’ve managed to mold what feels like an ocean of thought into 10 semi-succinct takeaways. By sharing these lessons with you, I hope that you’ll more easily recognize them in your own lives (or perhaps re-recognize them, as you’re likely either more aware or more seasoned than I). After all, if the trail taught me anything, it is that when we watch closely, the world unfolds its wisdom around us.

Below, in a classic mix of vulnerability and astute self-deprecation, are 10 takeaways from the trail.

1 🌟 Humor and friendship make everything easier.

“How did you hike 15-20 miles day after day? How did you not get bored? How did you figure things out? How did you keep going?”

My first answer to nearly every “how” question I have been asked about the trail (or, quite honestly, any “how” question I asked myself while on the trail) has been humor and friendship.

Humor softened situations that were objectively sucky (wet shoes), sketchy (getting caught in flood zones past dark), confusing (trail markers pointing the wrong direction), painful (climbing steep sh*t), and disappointing (gas stations without my favorite popsicle!). Humor also softened my perception of myself and my own capabilities. Laughing at my ego and shortcomings kept my typical, semi-serious soul light, motivated, and consistently humbled.

On the trail, the power of humor went hand in hand with that of friendship. I could rave endlessly about the incredible people I met on this Israel go-around, but one friendship undoubtedly rises to the top: Eran, the 23-year-old Israeli who, with the exception of my first five days, I spent the entire trail with. Hiking, problem-solving, planning, cooking, eating, reading, resting, getting sick…day after day, 24/7, it was all done together. The result? Unmatched friendship. A respectful, playful, brilliant, platonically intimate friendship that truly made the hundreds of miles possible and absolutely everything easier.

So my first takeaway? We should laugh often (especially at ourselves) and value friendship above most other things.

2 🌟 Make plans and change plans.

For an avid planner like me, the first half of this lesson was easy to accept. Oh, we need to plan a food resupply? A water cache? Sleeping locations? Routes and reroutes? Transportation? Holiday schedules? Got it. Covered. Lemme make a list, look at a map, read a review, hop on WhatsApp and message a few people. Logistics are my jammmm.

The second half of this lesson was harder to accept, yet it became crystalline so quickly: the most memorable sections of the trail were those for which the plans we had made were changed. Examples? The night we planned on sleeping in a kibbutz field and instead were pulled *literally* off the trail into a family’s home for Shabbat dinner, showers, and a night’s rest. Or the day we planned on making it thru Nahal Tze’elim (a flash-flood prone riverbed) by dark but were slowed by unanticipated water crossings…and ended up sleeping on the side of the riverbed under an unparalleled sky of stars. Or the afternoon we planned on hiking through multiple canyons, only to find the waterholes too deep…requiring us to backtrack, reroute, filter muddy water to drink, and pitch camp early under a moon so magical and bright that headlamps were practically unnecessary. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Would the trail have been so epic without any planning? Nope, and planning did save our butts many times. But, would the trail have been so epic if each of our plans had actually gone according to plan? *Definitely* not. Good things came from changing plans.

3 🌟 We assign meaning.

The trail was awesome. The experience was transformative. (yes, I’m rolling my eyes at me too). I can’t rave enough about it. And yet, I know that this positivity is simply the meaning that I’m choosing to assign to an experience that many other people would find miserable.

The trail had its shitty moments. My body hurt often. Hiking could be grueling and technical. Malfunctioning gear was disappointing. Being on my period sucked. Flies were annoying. Waking up to a dew-soaked sleeping bag was #hell. Logistics could be difficult. Plus, some days just felt plain poopy

And, while humor and friendship indeed made everything easier, consciously choosing to be undramatic about shittier moments became a true superpower (dare I say meditative practice). Sternly facing myself and assigning positive meaning to the way things were was damn effective. We even became accustomed to repeating “it’s fine, we’re fineeeee…!” semi-sarcastically and yet entirely seriously in response to the challenges of the trail. Because, yes, most of the time if we chose to be “fine” about a situation, then we were fine. Life is how you say it.

4 🌟 Everyone hikes their own trail.

Hitchhike boring sections or hike every single trail-mile, skip hard sections or add on detours, go fast or go slow, take breaks or hike straight through, walk with others or walk alone— everyone I met hiked the trail their own way. And, for the most part, there was the utmost respect between hikers that did things differently (of course, I still shook my head at people carrying only two liters of water per day in the desert or lugging packs weighing upwards of 50 lbs).

Some choices I (or we) decided to make specific to our trail experience: each day we took an ~2-hour midday break in the shade to beat the heat, eat lunch, nap, read, recaffinate, and mess around (tie knots, play with slingshot, look at maps); we opted to use the guide book and paper maps over phone apps (most of the time); we didn’t plan in rest days, instead we paused hiking when we needed something (new shoes) or weather prevented continuing (storms); and we chose to hike the sections of the trail that others often hitchhike (4X4 roads along highways).

Did our choices make our experience “better” or “worse” than anyone else’s experience? Nope. Everyone did their own thing, and that was what made it cool.

5 🌟 They give, you take. They kick, you run.

This nugget of wisdom comes across a bit harsher than it’s meant to (#lostintranslation). But the point is: if someone offers you something (unless they’re trying to “kick you”), you should take it…be it a bed to sleep in, a homecooked meal, a ride to the supermarket, a cup of coffee, an ice cream delivery via plane midway through the trail…say YES!

As an American, I often found this hard. In American culture, we are fairly good at giving (although we suck at being genuine– how many times have you said you’d love to catch up over coffee but never called? offered to do a favor out of politeness and never followed up? I’m guilty, too.) But we suck at taking. In our culture, it’s seen as polite to refuse favors, offers, and help. It’s polite to not “be a bother” or “take advantage of someone’s kindness.” In essence, we perpetuate a sort of one-sided disingenuine generosity (ironic, right?).

I’ve always noticed a stark difference with Israeli culture. Israelis don’t offer something unless they meant it. And if someone “gives” an Israeli something, they’ll usually take it. The result in the context of the trail? Giving and taking bred so much human connection. Without exception, every time we “took” something we were offered we got to know a fascinating person, had an incredible conversation, or learned something new.

Least we like to admit, we are transactional beings. So, note to self: while giving is important, we also must take for connection to occur.

6 🌟 Most strangers are mostly good.

Along with the whole give-and-take thing, my experience on the trail reminded me that most strangers who appear kind, trustworthy, and well-intentioned really are. People on the trail (trail angles, bus drivers, other hikers, etc.) were unbelievable, and yet it still took me some time to trust that most strangers were mostly good.

Why? Probably my own pessimism and America’s “stranger danger” paranoia. In America, we’re taught that strangers don’t want to help. Strangers are unpredictable. Strangers are weird and dangerous. Strangers are, well, strange?! And yet, every friend I made or person who helped me along the way was at first a stranger. One after the next, most people ended up being mostly good, if not downright fabulous. It made me think about how different America (and the world) would be if we assumed the best of everybody.

The takeaway? Be a good stranger. And assume everyone else is being a good stranger, too.

🌟 Simplicity is queen.

Anything in life that requires you to carry all your possessions on your back will make you a minimalist. And, I’m not talking about today’s trendy and privileged millennial “minimalism” movement (although I’m admittedly part of that, too).

The result of legit minimalism? An intimate and nerdy knowledge of my gear and possessions…beyond that of any trek I had done before. An odd sense of pride and protection over my favorite things. An ironic realization that some of the “gear MVPs” were simple and mundane: extra socks used for cooking cozies, plastic bottles fashioned into map holders, etc. And, above all, a dramatic reduction in the number of choices I had to make each day (only one outfit to hike in, one spoon to use, one hat to wear…might write a gear list blog post…y/n? idk!).

I used to roll my eyes at Mark Zuckerberg and his grey t-shirts, but he has a point…minimalism frees up a lot of mental energy. On the trail, it provided me with the time and space to think about big life questions, to learn from other people, and to absorb the all-enveloping experience. Once again, I was taught that less really is enough.

8 🌟 Sometimes we just need someone to remind us to be brave.

I had some odd anxiety pop up on the trail. I was *petrified* of falling (residual PTSD from a severe 2015 ski fall/accident), even if the surface I was walking on was flat. This fear might sound normal…after all, who likes falling?! But the amount of emotional energy and focus required to navigate unstable surfaces (e.g., mud, shale, slippery rocks) was definitely not normal.

Admittedly, I was surprised by the extent of the whole thing and felt stupid at first. Weren’t there other things I should be (rationally) more worried about? Never the less, I couldn’t shake the anxiety. Eran’s patience with this (whether it was conscious or unconscious) was incredible. I never felt rushed, demeaned, or judged. He was usually silent, yet present and supportive. It was a quiet reminder that I was capable and I could be brave.

I thought a lot about this after I finished the trail… How 1) we have opportunities every day, all the time, to remind people that they can do things that might be scaring the shit out of them, and how 2) we must respect ourselves enough to surround ourselves with people who are emotionally safe. People who won’t coddle us or minimize us, but who will witness our vulnerabilities and anxieties without judgment. People who will gently remind us that we can be brave.

9 🌟 Take time to make time. 

While I covered a lot of ground in 52 days, one of the best lessons I learned was to slow down. I credit the Israelis for this, because it’s sure not part of the American hiking culture I’m used to (which is so go-go-go and mile/summit oriented). But on the trail, I quickly shed my American-ness and came to love the frequent coffee breaks, midday hour-long naps, delays at natural springs, and long stops at gorgeous views. It made everything, just better.

While Israel/Israelis can be intense (!!!), this relaxed philosophy (especially for the 20-30-year-old age group) extends beyond the trail and deep into Israeli culture. Spending so much time with young Israelis on the trail reminded me that the early 20s hysteria my friends and I have over career, prestige, and upward growth is so American (also, so tied to privilege). The real bummer? Our preoccupation with these things often means we miss the horizontal growth— the experiences and opportunities (like this one) that might not help us “climb the ladder,” but can make us kinder and wiser humans *before* we rise.

10 🌟 The trail provides.

It sounds cliche, and yet it rings so true.

The trail provided us with what we needed when we needed it— extra water when we were low, a cave when we were desperate for shade, a stranger with directions when we were lost, a lending library when we needed a new book, a hitch when we needed a ride, etc. Time after time, with a little patience, a little privilege, and a lot of luck, the dots always connected. 

The trail also provided us with things that we could have done without, but we’re so glad we didn’t have to— peaceful sunrises and sunsets, clear night skies freckled with stars, strangers that became friends, water in the desert, gas stations with popsicles, fresh fruit on trees, good weather on challenging days, visits from friends and family…this list is endless and cherished.

Finally, of course, the trail provided many lessons. And as I sit here processing it all, I must insist that normal life isn’t much unlike life on the trail (despite the obvious differences). It sounds woo-woo, but the world really does provide us what we need, when we need it. The things that are meant for us in life don’t pass us by. The world unfolds its wisdom around us. And, if we pay attention, what it provides might just make us a bit better than we were before.

a day on the trail

Hi wonderful people!

You might already know that I’m hiking a lot these days…like A LOT! Many of you have asked questions about the logistics of the trail & what I do each day.

While every day is so staggeringly different, here’s a glimpse into an average day on the trail thus far (though this all will change this week as I enter the desert!).

5:30 AM Phone alarm rings. I wake up (if I’m not already awake— sleeping in a new place every night doesn’t exactly equal great sleep) & wake up anyone around me who I’m hiking with for the day. One of us heats water for coffee & we all go about our morning routines in the dark. I take down clothes I hung up to dry the night before, gather my phone & Garmin (GPS/SOS device) chargers, fill my water bladder & bottles, & respond to texts I received while asleep. I put on my hiking clothes (a white sun shirt & either shorts or pants depending on the day) & someone heats another round of water for oatmeal. While we eat, we “consult Ya’acov” (review the trail maps & plan for the day— Ya’acov is the author of the trail’s guidebook).

6:45 am — If we’re staying with a family or trail angel & they’re awake, we say thank you. If we’re camping, then we pick up any trash & double check we didn’t forget anything. Then the shoes go on & off we go. Sometimes it takes us a few kilometers to get back to the trail from where we slept. Usually this first hour or so is silent, & the two or three or four of us (the hiking squad is constantly growing & shrinking) have our own little meditative moments as the sun rises. It’s awesome.

8:00 am — The sun is UP! We pull out sunscreen & pass it around. Hats, sunglasses, & sun gloves go on. Sometimes my trendy & functional sun umbrella goes up, too. We check back in with Ya’acov to make sure we’re on track (we usually have gotten lost at least once by now— eek).

9:00 am — The rest of Israel is awake. We start to figure out where we’re going to sleep that night, or plan ahead for a few nights ahead. Does one of us have friends or family near where we plan to stop? Do we want to find a trail angel (someone who opens up their home to hikers & often provides showers, laundry, & meals)? Is there a communal room at a kibbutz or pre-army academy that is open to hikers? Or, are we socially exhausted & craving more outdoor time & want to cowboy camp? We make calls, send texts, exchange voice memos, & tap into the extensive Israeli network as we hike. It never takes too long to find a friend of a friend, a generous stranger, or word of an epic campsite.

11:00 am — If we’re passing by a village or kibbutz, we stop quick to restock food. Tuna, coffee, tea, chocolate, tahini, sausage, rice, chips, oatmeal, cucumbers, gf crackers/bread & honey are my go-tos. Usually I throw in a popsicle (current favorite is pineapple coconut— like a mid morning piña colada!) to eat before we keep walking. If we’re not stopping for food, we at least try to refill water for the rest of the day.

1:00 pm — It’s Israel, it’s the Middle East, it’s effffinggggg boiling outside. By this point, sweat is in full force. I have practiced hot yoga for over a decade & this heat still puts me to shame— especially when it’s coupled with walking on concrete or sand (two surfaces that always seem to find us mid-day). We stop for two hours to recoup. I take off my shoes & socks & sweaty shirt to dry. Then lunch— the Israelis have trained me well over the past three years & I feel a strange sense of pride knowing I am fully satisfied by a lunch of canned tuna mixed with tahini on gf crackers/bread & sliced cucumber. So that’s what I do! Yum. Afterwards, I open up my sleeping pad & pass out for an hour. An hour nap mid-day is GOLD.

2:30 pm — My barista/navigator/hiking amigo (three-in-one) makes coffee (best part of hiking in Israel is the Israeli hikers are OBSESSED with their little coffee set thingys). I eat some chocolate (&/or honey), put on my shoes & my (hopefully dry) smelly shirt, reapply sunscreen (are you proud, Mom?), & we consult Ya’acov again.

3:00 pm — It’s cooled off a bit by now. We hike for another four or five hours. Sometimes new hikers join for a mile or two, & other hikers leave to catch public transport home or stop somewhere else for the day. We talk about all the big & little things— family, politics, religion, the army, travel, education, philosophy, etc. It’s unbelievable how well you can get to know people when you spend 24/7 with them— especially without screen time or the distraction of the outside world. It happens quick & it’s so exceptionally special.

6:00 pm — If we’re lucky there’s an evening breeze. No matter where we are, the sunset & the sky are reliably INCREDIBLE. I take off my hat, put up my hair, & roll up my sleeves. I’m usually exhausted by this point— especially if we’ve walked on any sand or asphalt during the day (the worst). It’s been six to nine hours of hot, exhausting movement w/ my pack on— so I tend to enter my “silly stage”, where everything is funny & goofy. This leads to singing & twisting hiking polls around like batons & making fun of each others’ accents & all sorts of random sh*t.

7:00 pm — Most nights we arrive to where we’ll sleep by dark…though sometimes we walk for a bit after sunset (not ideal), often along a highway (also not ideal & definitely the most dangerous part of the trail thus far). If we’re staying at a trail angel’s home, we all shower quickly (heaven!) & join the angel for a home cooked meal. If we’re staying at a pre-army academy, we are often served a meal from the dining hall & socialize with the kids. And, if we’re camping out, or sleeping in a kibbutz community building, then we fire up a caloric & mushy combination of rice, sausage, & tahini while talking with other hikers.

9:00 pm — I lay down to edit my photos from the day, check the day’s mileage, & write a short post. I am always shocked by all that happens in one day— so much life can be lived in 12 hrs on foot. It’s a fun challenge to condense the day to a few words. Then I decompress by writing in my personal journal (a faithful habit) & if I’m being responsible I stretch my legs, hips, & back (*if*).

9:30 pm — We consult Ya’acov on the next day’s miles. Do we need to plan ahead for water or food? Am I meeting someone somewhere along the way? Where will we find shade mid-day? I read Ya’acov in English & the Israelis read it in Hebrew & then we compare. Usually Ya’acov is more detailed & fun in the Hebrew version— c’mon Ya’acov!

10:30 pm — On a good night, I put in my ear plugs, set my alarm, & fall asleep around now. Does that mean I’m only sleeping 7ish hrs a night & walking 15-20 miles a day? Why yes. Somehow, yes. Usually a donkey or a cat or a centipede or a human or a text or a light infringes on these sacred 7 hrs, but it doesn’t really bother me…I still revel in the glory of laying horizontal— muscles relaxed, feet throbbing, & heart happy— ready to do it all again the next morning.

INT: the first 140-ish miles

Hi wonderful people! I get bored of formatting my blog posts the same way over & over, so for this first iteration of my Israel National Trail adventure, I’m going with a FAQ-style post. It feels self-promotional & a little ridiculous, but if the trail has taught me anything so far it’s that efficiency is QUEEN & repeating your story (& your steps, if you get lost!) can be exhausting. So there you have it. FAQ it is.

What the heck are you doing? Attempting to walk 600+ miles (1000+ km) north to south from the Lebanese-Israeli border to the Egyptian/Jordanian-Israeli border along the Israel National Trail (INT). I started in the north @ Kibbutz Dan & will end in the south in Eilat.

How long is this crazy thing going to take? Probably 45-60 days depending on how many rest days I take & how much I walk each day. Right now I’m averaging 15-20 miles per day, but not all those are “trail miles,” some are extra miles because I got lost, had to walk to & from town, or was tourista-ing at a stop along the way.

Won’t that be, like, really hard? The trail is no cakewalk & walking nearly a marathon each day is not easy, but it’s pretty remarkable what the human body can do. Ten days in & my “trail legs” are starting to come through for me, carrying me up & down valleys, ridges, mountains, etc. far more smoothly than they were a week ago. (Though not gonna lie, I’m taking a rest day today & it feels like I got hit by a truck).

Are you doing it alone? Kind of, but not really. I started the trail with Michelle, a 22-year-old American that reached out to me thru the INT online forum. We didn’t know each other before we began, but went up to Kibbutz Dan together & started the trail together. She only had time to hike for a week, so, unfortunately, our time together was short. Impossible to know who I’ll be hiking within a week (or month!) but there are so many good people on the trail & friends are made quickly. I feel so far from alone.

Where do you sleep? Most nights we stay at the home of a trail angel “מלאך” (a person who lives along the trail & opens up their homes to hikers “shvilistim”). Sometimes this means sleeping in their guest room, other times it means sleeping on the dead grass outside a kibbutz pub…but it seems to ALWAYS mean meeting incredible people. The generosity of strangers continues to awe & humble me.

What do you eat? Tuna, tahini, halva, dried fruit, nuts of every kind, rice crackers, (melted) chocolate, rice, oats, cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, peaches, SO much coffee & tea, & everything else we can find along the way (popsicles, pomegranates, mangos, wine, burgers, homemade meals from trail angels). Hiking 15-20 miles a day turns you into a food-consuming machine. I’m probably eating 3000-5000 calories a day & am still hungry. All. The. Time.

What does it look like? Check out photos on FB or Instagram. The north looks a lot like Napa/Sonoma/Los Altos Hills. Rolling vineyards, winding rivers, epic vistas, & small forests.

Are you safe? Contrary to the media’s portrayal of Israel, the state is as safe as can be. I always feel exponentially safer here than I ever do at home.

Best moments so far? Meeting & getting to know so many people (mostly Israelis), especially Michelle & Eran. Cruizing along the Lebanese border at sunset in a Jeep. Swimming in the Kinneret & ancient Roman springs after long days of hiking. Drinking coffee & watching the sunrise over the Kinneret. Taking an afternoon break at a winery on the trail. Experiencing the serendipitous, wonderful way that the problems I encounter on the trail work themselves out if I give them time & patience.

Not-so-great moments so far? Losing the trail in orchards. Reading the map wrong & having to back-track up steep sh*t we just climbed down. Sleeping in areas w/ tons of noise & light. Trash on the trail in urban areas.

What’s next? Right now I’m taking 24 hours to recuperate, sleep in my “own” bed at our family friend’s house in Ra’anana, get some psudo-parent time from Dorothy & Nim, celebrate Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) tonight with their family, swap out gear, do laundry (I smell like an elderly sheep or something disgusting), & put on a face mask (#bougie). Tomorrow I’ll head north to where I left the trail yesterday & continue hiking towards Haifa & the Mediterranean.

Anything else? Nope. Trail life is simple & wonderful & consists of endless days of being fully present, exhausted, frustrated, joyful, hungry, & fulfilled. Onward to the next 100 miles!

XO Cass

P.S. Photos can be found on FB & Instagram. I’m available via my Israeli # on iMessage & my American # on WhatsApp. If you’d like my Garmin link to track my hiking each day, reach out & send you it.

 

 

top 10 moments: a SUMMER-y

The days are long, but the months are short! Somehow I survived 2.5 months in the Davis heat (thanks to the pool, ice packs, & an absurd amount of coconut water) & snuck in a few extra special summer moments. Here are the top 10:

  1. Fourth of July: This year was the 40th annual Ray Avenue block party! Wow. It was a reliably good time celebrating w/ games, dogs, ALL the food, and the best family and friends. We’re so dang lucky.
  2. Darla: Two weeks of house sitting & dog sitting Darla in Alameda. Lots of fur, cuddling, walking along the waterfront, and bonding time with Darla, who I affectionately came to call “Honeybee.”
  3. Angel Island: FINALLY checked this Bay Area classic off the bucket list in July with friends. A quick ride from Tiburon on a Sunday afternoon + a few hours of walking around abandoned buildings & island bluffs = a HIGHLY recommended adventure. Next time we’re backpacking overnight!
  4. Minnesota: After 5 years, Maggie, Jack, Katie, Christian, & I all managed to coordinate a Minnesota weekend at Christian’s grandparents’ lake house in Pequot Lakes. We ate like kings & queens, flipped thru old yearbooks, squished into one bed to watch Insta stories together, and bickered like kindergarteners. The best.
  5. Montecito Sequoia Family Camp: We visited my art-director sister, Hannah (or “Mae” if you’re in NYC, or “River” if you’re at Camp…we just call her “HMR” these days) for a week in Sequoia National Park. I hiked a sh*t ton of miles, swam in lots of lakes, ate my weight in delicious camp food, and enjoyed the always glorious mountain air.
  6. Everything Davis: My love letter to Davis would be a mile long. Needless to say, summer was hot but SO darn fun. Weekdays were spent working for the UC Davis Policy Institute. Evenings were spent cooling off at the pool, walking around the grocery store, slacklining in the park, picnicking at the Farmers’ Markets, and sitting in the unairconditioned apartment in our underwear w/ a rotating circuit of ice packs from the freezer. It took strong doses of humor & friendship to get thru the heat. Luckily I’m blessed with a surplus of both.
  7. Fam Bam: A surprise visit from cousin David (from London/NYC) & a months-long stay from Tham & my Uncle Stephen (from Vietnam) were the perfect accents to family meals & outings.
  8. SF w/ Emma & Clara: Managed to get a little “BFF-triangle” (new favorite term) time in last weekend in SF. Five years after meeting on freshman move-in day, we’re still a goofy, witty, best-of-friends trio.
  9. Hiking: ALL the flippin’ hiking…more Berryessa & Windy Hill trips than I can count, interspersed adventures in Jenner, Point Reyes, Folsom & the Sequoias. I’m repeatedly enamored with the beauty of our home.
  10. Nasvhille: Rounded out the summer w/ a trip to see my Israel friend Mimi (1/2 way thru her Jewish Studies Masters at Vanderbilt) in Nashville. We ate a lot, yoga-ed a lot, & laid on the floor talking A LOT. Time w/ her is so good for the soul (especially good prep for my return to the holy land!).

What now? 72 hrs of recouping at home before heading to Israel (!!!) for a few months. I’ll spend the first 2 weeks bopping around (my friend Kia is visiting for 10 days) before throwing on a backpack & some sturdy shoes in an attempt to walk 1000km, north to south along the Israel National Trail (Lebanese/Syrian border to Egyptian/Jordanian border).

I’ll be posting spontaneous, infrequent blog updates on all the trail hoopla. If you want to follow along, click “Follow” in the bottom right-hand corner of this window.

Sending love to all you fabulous humans & best wishes for a fruitful, fun, fabulous fall season. XO Cass

…and she’s done!

After five years and hundreds of hours of work (and fun!), it’s over. Done. Finito. נעשה.

Yesterday, I graduated from UC Davis with a BS in Sustainable Environmental Design and minors in Jewish Studies and Professional Writing. And while I have gained a degree, the diploma itself pales in comparison to everything else I’ve experienced: the challenges that have changed me, the people who have supported me, the big ideas and little moments that have made me more “me.”

Here I am, on the other side, feeling privileged, relieved, excited, confused, and damn NOSTALGIC! Below, in brevity, are the best moments: the things and people that make my heart sing.

YEAR 1: Moved into the Tercero “cow” dorms. Met Emma and Clara who lived next door and let me sleep on their floor after my roommate drama. Met Kia serendipitously in an elevator. Immediately decided to be besties. Studied bio, slept 12 hrs a night (not a normal freshman), and ate A LOT of chocolate chip cookies and rice. Experienced the famous “butt cut” (sliced my butt open while skiing) and eff-d up my hip joint. Dropped out of school for the rest of the year and raised two ducks (April and May)!

YEAR 2: Lived on Brown Drive in a janky house with five girls and two boys (Maggie + the flippin’ BEST squad). Took random classes that were awesome (like the one where we milked cows for our lab final). Briefly did triathlon team. Worked for the Graduate School of Education. Hiked a lot. Yoga-ed a lot. Applied to go abroad. Took a leap and switched my major to Sustainable Environmental Design the final week of spring quarter.

YEAR 3: Spent 11.5 months studying and living in the middle of the Israeli desert. Met more best friends (Mimi, Maya, Hannah, Felice!). Suffered thru learning Hebrew. Ate an obscene amount of tahini. Got yelled at (and loved) by a lot by Israelis. Yelled at some Israelis myself. Studied transboundary water conflicts and Jewish stuff. Added a Jewish Studies minor. Traveled to 10 other countries (ridiculously privileged). Survived four months abroad without a phone (sorry, Mom). Came home wittier, blunter, more loving, more humble, and more Jew-ish than ever.

YEAR 4: Lived downtown with Danna in the best apartment ever. Worked as a peer advisor at UC Davis Study Abroad with fantastic humans. Wrote a lot. Added a Professional Writing minor. Fell in love with copy editing. Took a boatload of sustainable design classes. Formed a fantastic community in Hunt Hall during the exhaustive hours of design projects. Missed Israel every. single. day. (So I went back for a hot sec).

YEAR 5: Lived downtown with Kia (finally!) in the same apartment. Worked for the UC Davis Policy Institute (read a lot, wrote a lot). Mentored students in my major. Completed a Wilderness First Responder course and a 200 hr Yoga Teacher Training. Did design projects up-the-wazooooo: Portland beaver habitat restoration, UC Davis Student Farm Production & Learning Facility, tiny homes community, etc. Met the greatest friends and designers who put up with me thru all the work (shout out to my three-quarter-long best-project-partner-ever, Abraham). Was supported by incredible staff, faculty, and family. Graduated!

FUTURE: Working for the UC Davis Policy Institute thru the summer. Praying I survive the heat with help from an office with A/C and friends with pools (SOS). Moving out in September and headed to Israel to hike the Israeli National Trail for two months (stay tuned for blog posts, or just come hike with me!). Will be back in November…and then???!

Looking back on college with the biggest smile. Looking forward to the future with the same. I love you all. Onwards and upwards!

2019 ta-da list (thus far)

After a whirlwind winter quarter, nose to the ground, I looked up and realized 1) it’s spring + gorgeous,  2) so much has happened since January, and 3) I haven’t written a post in far too long. Demerit to me. Here I am, making up for lost time with an abbreviated “ta-da list” (a twist on the to-do list) of 2019 thus far.

  • Started a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training @ Akasha in Davis with nine other wonderful humans and three incredible instructors. Queue lots of vinyasas, alignment, sore shoulders, yoga philosophy, chakra convos, and personal growth. It’s just as woo-woo/enlightening/wonderful/exhausting as it sounds.
  • Completed a Local 30 challenge (supporting local businesses and farms by focusing my grocery haul on as much food grown w/in 200 miles as possible for 30 days). Admittedly, I spent most of this time reflecting on the enormous privilege associated with being able to afford and access local food. In many ways, I felt guilty exercising this privilege, especially when a large percentage of the UC Davis community is food insecure. But, I also felt empowered by the ability to support local farms, the Farmers Market, and our Davis Co-op.
  • Did some school work (well, a lot of school work!). Despite being “part-time” this quarter, I immersed myself in a community engagement course (where we designed a new UC Davis Student Farm Production and Education Facility), completed the final course for my Jewish Studies minor, and wrapped up internship units for my Professional Writing minor. The undergrad check-list is rapidly dwindling…I’m frantically stuffing in all the information and growth before the “garage door closes” in June.
  • Mimi, my dear friend from Israel, visited for a California weekend. We hiked, ate, talked, walked, and did ALL the fun things while enjoying the gorgeous spring weather. A few of my friends from Davis and home joined in on activities. While this “clashing of worlds” is most people’s worst nightmare, it’s my favorite thing on Earth. The best!
  • Headed south w/ Momma to Joshua Tree for a quick desert camping/hiking trip. Repeatedly enamored with California’s beautiful and diverse landscape. It really never gets old. Cherry-on-top was a stop @ Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve on the way home yesterday. Truly other-worldly.

Now, back to Davis for the *final* quarter of my undergraduate career. Time to soak up all the goodness of this special place, while also 1) contemplating the intimidating future of life and 2) feeling ridiculously grateful for where I’m at. Such is life at 23!

sayonara ’18, shalom ’19

Happy (belated) New Year, wonderful humans! We have a general distaste for holiday letters in the Craford household (so I won’t bore you with an exhaustive list of everything 2018 sent my way), but I can’t resist documenting the past month of travel, festivities, and learning. It’s been a blast!

Austin: After wrapping up a slew of projects fall quarter, I met my friend Mimi from Israel in Austin. Mimi lives in Nashville (and I’m of course here), so Austin seemed like a perfect half-way meeting point. While we thought this was a unique idea, nearly every Lyft driver we had remarked that there are “so many bi-coastal friends meeting in Austin these days”. So much for our revolutionary thinking…

Anyways, we spent four days eating at the best foodie places (Picnik, Josephine House, the original Whole Foods, JuiceLandNadaMoo), shopping at vintage stores, exploring museums, going to yoga and acupuncture (classic), logging some significant walking miles, and talking each other’s ears off. Needless to say it was super fun to traipse around a new city and it almost felt like we were abroad again. Ah, nostalgia.

XMAS: For the first time in what felt like forever, we spent Christmas at home. I’m always partial to skipping town and traveling as a family to avoid the hoopla of the holidays, but it felt extra special to be home this year.

Festivities included hosting Mom’s holiday work party (10+ physical therapists and remarkably minimal muscle/bone/treatment talk), an epic crab feast and secret Santa family gift exchange at Grandma Dianne’s (popular items included CBD chocolate, a Trump Dammit Doll, and a dinosaur lamp) and a combo of Christmas Day festivities at our house and Grandma and Grandpa’s in the hills.

Monterey: We did manage to skip town as a family after Christmas…during that weird time before New Years when the Christmas-celebrating world is in limbo no one knows the day of the week. In a mix of productivity and rest I completed four books in four days (Tripping with Allah, Better than Before, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Hostage), did handstands on the beach, and spent quality time with Taxi…And we celebrated Grandpa George’s 80th birthday. Mazel tov!

New Years: We spent New Years Eve with the Miro/Weiss family in Alameda, making sushi rolls, watching the Warriors, eating those charming little Japanese rice candies that melt in your mouth, and falling asleep at 10:30 pm (per usual, at least for me!). New Years Day was spent with yet another set of friends-like-family walking around the Baylands in Palo Alto…sometimes I forget how gorg our little corner of the world is– this was a good reminder!

Wilderness First Responder: I jumped right into Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Training with NOLS and Rescue SF on January 2nd alongside 27 other epic, outdoorsy people. We spent ten days straight and 80 hours (!!!) at Crissy Field learning boatloads of info about backcountry emergency medicine, completing endless real-life scenarios, trading harrowing injury stories, and becoming awesome comrades. I can’t sing the praises of the course high enough– truly worth while for anyone who likes to get themselves in sticky-backcountry-out-of-cell-range situations!

Birthday: Half-way into WFR training I turned 23. All I can say is that 23 feels very old.  When I told this to my friend Jack, he responded with, “Well, Cass, then your age is finally starting to match your personality!” Eeeeek, he hit the nail on the head with that one!

After my birthday and WFR training, I headed back to Davis (only one quarter left after this!). So here I am, settling into 2019, 23, and all that fifth-year-senioritis has to offer. To make the most of it, I made a list of 23 happiness-inducing things to do while I’m 23. A picture of the list is included below– hit me up if you want to join in on anything!

Love you each and a very Happy New Year to all of you. XO Cass

 

 

 

Undercurrents of War

In this second itteration of follow-up essays about Israel and the Middle East, I’ve departed from my casual, “bloggy tone” and take an academic approach. If you can stomach that for five minutes, then read along! Below is a cause-and-effect essay that I wrote for a course this fall. Titled “Undercurrents of War,” it explains the role water played in the 1967 War and shines a light on the often cast-aside influence of hydropolitics in regional conflicts.

While it is often overlooked, the water conflict between Israel and surrounding Arab states that began with Israel’s establishment in 1948 significantly heightened regional tensions that lead to the 1967 War. The root cause of the water conflict between Israel and the Arabs can be traced back to the management and use of the Jordan River, a central water source running along the Israeli-Jordanian border. Israel and the Arab states’ uncompromisable positions regarding each other’s use of the River eventually climaxed at the Arabs’ Cairo Summit in 1964 [1]. Following the Cairo Summit, the water conflict became increasingly political and violent as Arab states unified and international involvement in the Middle East grew. Consequently, a series of violent counter-retaliations between Israel and the Arabs began, setting off a chain of events that led to the 1967 War.

Central to the water conflict was the understanding that whichever power dominated the River’s water controlled the strength of the newly established Jewish state. Israel knew that water “was the very lifeblood” of their new state and that access to the River was necessary to expand agriculture, accommodate a growing immigrant population, and develop a strong national economy [3]. Thus, upon Israel’s establishment, access to the River became a top priority.

For the Arabs, allowing Israel access to the River required Arab states to recognize their enemy’s existence as a sovereign state and to watch Israel grow. The Arabs were unwilling to do either. They worried that a growing Israeli population would lead to increased water demands and ruin any future possibility for Palestinian refugees to return to the land they lost in 1948, perpetuating an already challenging refugee crisis [2]. The Arabs also feared that Israel’s development and territorial aspirations would escalate and infringe on more Arab land [4]. Finally, the Arabs knew that the stronger Israel grew, the more difficult it would be to defeat should an armed conflict arise. Consequently, the Arabs sought to prevent Israel’s access to and diversion of the River.

Conflicting positions on water use resulted in regional tension during the construction of Israel’s National Water Carrier. Israel had designed the water carrier to transport water from the Jordan River Valley south towards the Negev to expand agricultural land. In 1953, construction of the water carrier began in a zone that was demilitarized in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War [5]. While Israel viewed the demilitarized land as its own, Syria felt that the construction encroached on Arab land and water rights. In response, Syria filed a complaint against Israel to the UN Security Council, garnering global attention [2].

The Syrian complaint and water carrier conflict aroused concern in the United States regarding the stability of the Middle East. The United States favored a stable Middle East to maintain Western oil operations and prevent the Soviet Union from gaining influence in the region [2]. As a result, the United States sent Secretary of State Eric Johnston to Israel to establish a resolution between Israel and the Arabs [4]. The resulting 1955 Johnston Plan allocated 39% of the River’s water to Israel, with the remaining percentage divided between surrounding Arab states. The Johnston Plan also required Israel’s diversion of the River to be rerouted outside the demilitarized zone [6]. While both the Israeli and Arab technical teams approved the plan, only Israel gave the plan overall approval. The Arab coalition did not formally respond, as doing so would infer that they acknowledged Israel as a sovereign state [4].

Ignoring the lack of Arab approval, Israel resumed construction of the National Water Carrier in 1956, complying with the Johnston Plan and avoiding demilitarized zones [5]. This undoubtedly increased Arabs’ frustration, but no concrete Arab response was formulated until the Cairo Summit in 1964. But, by the time the Cairo Summit was held, the construction of the National Water Carrier was nearly complete [1].

In retrospect, the Cairo Summit proved to be the catalyst that escalated the water conflict into a cause for the 1967 War. While Arab states generally disapproved of Israel, prior to the Cairo Summit the states had disagreed with each other regarding the specifics of Israel’s existence and regional hydropolitics. Differences in opinion had intensified in 1961 when the historical Egyptian-Syrian unification crumbled and Arab powers turned against each other [4]. This falling out had changed the water conflict on the Arab front from a “Pan-Arab cause to a controversial issue between Arab camps” [4]. Thus, it was not until three years later at the Cairo Summit that Arab powers would regroup, creating an solidified Arab front that was coordinated enough for war.

The Arabs’ actions at the Cairo Summit indicated that the water conflict had quickly become a top priority. At the summit, a joint technical team drew up plans to prevent further Israeli water diversions and to reroute the River in Arab favor [4]. Meanwhile, the Arab states also established the Unified Arab Military [2]. This merge of military power demonstrated that the Arabs thought that the water conflict was not a simple skirmish with Israel, but a substantial conflict that would require military power in the immediate future. Thus, the Arab states’ involvement at the Cairo Summit transformed a previously fragmented Arab world into an established, confident front prepared for war.

The Cairo Summit also increased international involvement in the Middle East, providing both Israel and the Arabs with the political support, money, and arms needed for war. The United States, in particular, worried that the newly unified Arab front would incite violence and threaten regional stability. In response, the United States affirmed its plan to defend Israel and continue to supply Israel with weapons [2]. While initial arms deals between two countries were established years prior to the Cairo Summit, the summit demonstrated the need for extensive Israeli military power to combat the Unified Arab Military Command. Thus, the reaffirmed alliance between Israel and the United States reassured the Israeli military that they had the support of the United States. With this backing, Israel was determined to secure its future as a state and stop any Arab counter-diversions of the River.

Interest from the Soviet Union also grew after the Cairo Summit. The Soviet Union, in the midst of the Cold War, saw the Arab-Israeli water conflict as an opportunity to act upon their “expansionist ambitions” and gain influence in the Middle East [2]. While the Soviets had sided with the Arabs as early as 1955, they reestablished their support following the Cairo Summit, condemning Israel’s diversion of the River as a preemptive act of war. Additionally, the Soviets financially supported the Arab counter-diversion plan and increased arms supplies to the Arab Unified Command, bolstering Arab strength [2].

The boost in international support Israel and the Arabs received allowed each side to become increasingly uncompromising and powerful. This resulted in a cycle of retaliatory attacks, pushing the region further towards what appeared to be an inevitable war. Following the Cairo Summit, the Arab forces began construction on their counter-diversion plan for the River. This plan threatened Israel’s water access, causing great concern in Israeli society. By late 1964, Israel was desperate and the Israeli government felt that all peaceful methods of mediation with the Arabs regarding hydropolitics had been exhausted. On its own accord, Israel used military force to prevent the Arab counter-diversion of the River, launching an airstrike against Syrian counter-diversion sites [5]. In response, Syria mobilized soldiers to wreak havoc on Israeli water carrier sites and demilitarized civilian zones [5]. Syrian aggression would eventually prompt further Israeli airstrikes and air battles between the two forces. This shift from diplomatic disagreements and smaller land operations to aerial combat marked a significant escalation. No longer was the water conflict simply a regional political disagreement, but a situation that both sides felt necessitated the use of serious military force.

With counter-retaliations growing increasingly frequent, war seemed inevitable. The Soviets, worried the Arabs would not win a war against the Israelis, warned Egypt of Israeli threats to attack Syria on a “much larger scale” [2]. The Soviets hoped this warning would lead the Egyptians to mobilize the Egyptian-Syrian Defense Agreement, intimidating the Israelis and preventing war. Egypt, however, had already begun to secretly deploy its forces. As such, the Soviet warning only served as further Egyptian assurance that military action was necessary. Thus, in May of 1967, with the belief that Israel was ready to strike Syria, Egyptian forces entered the Sinai Peninsula, setting off a sequence of events that began the 1967 War [2].

In conclusion, it is undeniable that the Arab-Israeli water conflict escalated regional tensions that led to the 1967 War. Rooted in each group’s uncompromisable position on the River, the struggle over water became progressively violent as Israel continued to build water infrastructure, Arab states became a reunited front, and international involvement in the Middle East increased. While this sequence of events is evidently unique, the path from conflict to war in the Middle East offers up broader lessons for today’s global community. As the world population grows, infrastructure development expands, and the demand for natural resources increases, it is not unreasonable to speculate that the greatest challenges of our time will stem from a struggle over the one thing we cannot live without: water.

References

[1] Wolf, Aaron. Hydropolitics Along the Jordan River; Scarce Water and Its Impact on the Arab-Israeli Conflict. United Nations University Press, 1995.

[2] Gat, Moshe. “The Great Powers and the Water Dispute in the Middle East: A Prelude to the Six Day War.” Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 41, no. 6, 2005, pp. 911-935.

[3] Haddadin, Munther. “Negotiated Resolution of the Jordan-Israel Water Conflict.” Journal of International Negotiation, vol. 5 no. 2, 2000, pp. 236-288.

[4] Shemesh, Moshe. “Prelude to the Six-Day War: The Arab-Israeli Struggle Over Water Resources.” Israel Studies, vol. 9, no. 3, 2004, pp. 1-45.

[5] Neff, Donald. “Israel-Syria: Conflict at the Jordan River, 1949-1967.” Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 23, no. 4, 1994, pp. 26-40.

[6] Elmusa, Sharif. “The Jordan-Israel Water Agreement: A Model or an Exception.” University of California Press on behalf of the Institute for Palestine Studies, vol. 24, no. 3, 1995, pp. 63-73.