It's Friday, time yet again for another "Interesting Jewish Stories & Facts" (IJS&F) posting. Today we visit Israel and dip our tootsies into the brackish waters of a fascinating and picturesque tourist attraction.
The Dead Sea is salty and muddy and, well, absolutely dead.
It's also one of Israel's most interesting attractions. Most first-time tourists include a trip to this remote region of the country to see Masada -- the ancient fortress about 90 minutes by bus from Jerusalem -- and find the nearby Dead Sea, despite its name, the perfect place to relax and get cool.
That's what I and a group of companions from Atlanta did on a visit sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. After a couple of hours of exploring the ruins of Masada, most of us were ready to experience the unique -- some might say bizarre -- offerings of this gigantic inland lake.
The Dead Sea is fed mainly from the north by the Jordan River. But the fresh water evaporates quickly because of the hot desert climate. What remains is a mineral-rich pond -- it's 10 times saltier than the Mediterranean -- that is incapable of supporting life.
But it will support bathers -- literally.
Because of the density of solids in the water, when you jump into the Dead Sea, you bob to the surface like you're made of cork and float -- effortlessly. You don't have to arch your back. You don't have to paddle your hands and kick your legs. In fact, you don't have to do anything but enjoy the experience.
You can also enjoy the sun -- there's an average of 330 full days of sunshine in the region each year.
And because the Dead Sea is 1,320 feet below sea level, the lowest point on Earth, harmful ultraviolet rays are filtered through an extra atmospheric layer -- an evaporation layer that exists above the Dead Sea and a rather thick ozone layer. So sun lovers can bake for hours with little risk of burning.
That's not to suggest there aren't problems. If you have a cut, even a tiny scratch or small rash, the sting of the mineral-rich water will probably drive you out of the area with a grimace on your face and a crusty glaze of salt all over your body.
At least that was my experience. I lasted only five minutes or so before bolting for one of the fresh-water showers that dot the nearby beach.
Others in the group had no such problems. I spotted them as I washed away the brackish water -- a flotilla of pink-skinned tourists bobbing leisurely and comfortably atop the calm waters of the lake.
And then there's the mud. It covers the banks and sea floor, squishing coolly around your feet and ankles, and feels like a gooey mess of Jell-O. It's also thought to be good for you.
People take the stuff and smear it all over their bodies, a practice that stretches back thousands of years -- supposedly Solomon, Cleopatra and Herod the Great all enjoyed playing in the mud.
The gelatinous gunk, a brew of minerals including magnesium, calcium, bromine and potassium, offers relief for people suffering from psoriasis and other skin disorders and is used as a beauty aid. It's marketed under the brand name of Ahava and can be purchased online or at most department stores, spas and many beauty salons.
The entire area is remarkable, one of the treasures of Israel and just one of the reasons you might want to visit the Jewish homeland.