Mike Bruesewitz: The other side of Israel

Evening along the Dead Sea in Israel.

Alberto Peral

It is a fact* that there are more holidays in Israel then in any other country I have ever visited (*not actually a fact just seems like there is a holiday every other week). Two weeks ago I was asked to participate in a hike during the night of the second Passover and it was one of the greatest experiences I have had during my time abroad.

Madison has a rather large Jewish population and a big right of passage of American Jews is called birthright which basically means coming back to the motherland (Israel). Many American Jews visit Israel and instantly become obsessed with the weather, people and immense culture that this country has to offer. Luckily I have found a few connections 6,000 miles from Badgerland and they have allowed me to experience and entirely new side of Israel which I am grateful for.

Through a mutual friendship I connected with a girl from school named Sarah who is living in Tel Aviv. I invited her to our very first playoff game and we were able to hang out afterwards. During this time she invited me on an all-night hike through the desert which sounded a little sketchy at first but I decided to jump on what I felt was a rare opportunity.

The very next day I had to go to practice then race and grab my bags to catch a bus. The group had a wide variety of characters from the uber-religious to those just looking for an adventure. We drove for about an hour and a half south of Jerusalem past the Dead Sea. After arriving at our destination we were told our schedule would consist of lots of hiking with a few stops along the way in which poetry and songs would be recited.

We started our journey through the night and it was one of the most beautiful nights I have experienced in my entire life. The moon was full and cast a silvery glow across the desert. We were walking in the valleys below the surface of the desert and everything was extremely bright. The rifts all around us were like beacons of light that comes from white limestone, but all of it was soft sediment that had been pushed down for millions of years.

After about 20 minutes of walking we stopped as a group and listened to a man and a woman recite a spiritual poem about how the desert speaks to each person differently. I am not the most spiritual person in the world but I found the poetry quite beautiful and I found myself meditating every time we stopped and listened to another section of the poem. Some parts of the hike were very social I had some really great conversations with people who have completely different experiences that I know almost nothing about. Other parts we were separated from each other and we walked in complete silence, which I found to be my favorite part.

The best part about being out in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night was just how quiet it was and the extreme absence of pollution. Even with the mooning shining down like a silver sun I have not seen that many stars in a long time. I have not experienced that type of silence in a long time. I have been living in crowded cities for the last seven years of my life and at times it can be difficult to find true silence. During this time I was able to truly appreciate just how far I had come. I grew up in a small town in the boonies of Minnesota and I am now living abroad getting played to play a game for a living. I have spent almost no money and the experiences I have had the past eight months have been truly life changing.

We finished out hike about 6:30 a.m. and witnessed the sun come up over mountains of Jordan. I was muddy, tired and extremely hungry but so happy that I decided to go on an adventure that night. I may be one of the few basketball players in the world who can say they have had an experience like that and I think that is pretty cool.

It wasn’t all gravy, as the bus ride home was pretty miserable. Being cramped on a bus full of people who were hiking through the night was not the most pleasant way to start my day (think: tired and the stench). I also had to get back for practice later that evening. To say I struggled would be a vast improvement of what took place on the floor, but I looking back on such an amazing experience I do not mind the few missed layups I had that day. I mean after all we are only talking about PRACTICE.

(Note:You can find the archive of Mike Bruesewitz’s Imported Bru stories and photo galleries here and listen to his latest podcast here.)