Sunday, July 13, 2003

Meditating on Mitzpe Ramon
Yesterday, in the early morning, I decided to go out for walking meditation along the path on the edge of the cliff. I haven't done any walking meditation for ages. It's a very calming practice. I can't do it in the city, but in Mitzpe Ramon I feel quite comfortable to walk along slowly, aware of my breathing and the feel and sound of my feet touching the ground underneath them with every step. I was quite alone, aside from a few people on their way to the nearby synagogue and one or two fellow walkers.

On my way up to the cliff's edge, I noticed a family of ibex further up. Later on I came parallel to them as I walked and brought my attention away from my breathing to look at them. While I was doing so, a car coming along the road, stopped abruptly with screeching brakes and a family of five or six tumbled noisily out, disturbing the early morning calm. They immediately began bustling around the ibex, posing for photographs and, horror of horrors, throwing them bread so they would come nearer to be photographed. I wondered if I should say something to explain to them that it was not a good idea to feed these wild animals, especially not with bread, but I decided it would not do any good. They did not look as if they would be capable of understanding and there would just be an unpleasant exchange, which would make us all miserable and bad tempered.

* * * *

People in Mitzpe Ramon are very excited about the prospect of a legal casino opening in the town. There has been talk of this for years, and they believe it is going to happen very soon. They see it as the answer to the severe unemployment problem in the town. It will bring gamblers and more tourists. They will have to sleep somewhere. They will have to eat.

I fear that in their starry-eyed fantasizing they fail to see the downside of such a development. They ignore the fact that their quiet little town could change in such a way as to make it a far less pleasant place to live in.

Because gambling brings baggage with it, not just jobs for the locals. It brings a seedy side. Now it's not as if there isn't a seedy side to Mitzpe Ramon today. It is a poverty stricken place. It has its drugs and petty crime, but it still has a certain innocence. A casino, even a legal one, will bring with it some really unpleasant characters. It will bring the loan sharks with their violent collectors. It will bring a flourishing sex trade, with its imported whores from the Ukraine and the unsavory characters who enslave them. It will bring foreign workers who will do the work for starvation wages, with the locals finding it hard to compete. And it will bring with it far more people like that family that jumped out of their car yesterday morning and fed bread to the ibex.

And worse.

I fear the price to the environment will be awful. I doubt the ibex could survive such a change. I fear for the crater.

Mitzpe Ramon may become more affluent, and it may grow and have more jobs to offer its inhabitants, if and when a casino is built. But if it becomes sleazy and crime infested, it will probably lose it's main source of income of today, the "nice" visitors like us (we are nice, and even if we are jailbirds, we're nice jailbirds ;-) ), and like the well-to-do tourists who come to stay at the lovely Ramon Inn and tour the crater, and the other natural and archeological attractions in the area. It could also lose its religious community, including a respected national religious high school Yeshiva and a flourishing Braslav community, which, I believe, are good influences on the town (even if Braslavs tend to be a bit nutty).

I hope I'm wrong. I hope that a legal casino really does save Mitzpe Ramon. I hope that, in the long run, the Mitzpa'im, as they call themselves, will find the casino worth the price. That is if it ever materializes.