where the muddy waters of the Jordan eddy lazily along, about 12 feet
deep, you are so close to the other side you can fly a paper airplane
across and have it land in the lap of a pilgrim sitting on the wooden
dock, hung incongruously with two orange life-saving rings, on the
Jordanian side. The dock leads to a walkway, and up to a beautiful
little gold-domed chapel built by the Jordanians in the year 2000, based
on ancient accounts that marked the baptism on the east bank of the river. Since 1994, this has been a peaceful international border between Israel and Jordan.
excitement of being in a place of such authenticity, where just a
stone’s throw away, John the Baptist preached, will hopefully impress
modern visitors more than it did Mark Twain, who described his 1867
visit here in Innocents Abroad.
“With the first suspicion
of dawn every pilgrim took off his clothes and waded into the dark
torrent, singing ‘On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand/ and cast a wistful
eye/ To Canaan’s fair and happy land/ Where my possessions lie.’ But
they did not sing long. The water was so fearfully cold that they were
obliged to stop singing and scamper out again… So we saw the Jordan very
vivid description by the famed curmudgeonly writer reinforces the
inescapable impression that little has changed here since the 19th
century. And that is its charm. Uriel Aharonov, the Megilot-Dead Sea
Regional Council engineer who is working together with the Jordan Valley
Regional Council to create the essential tourist amenities here,
pledges to protect this authenticity. “Except for shoring up existing
walls and a simple wooden ramp, there will be no construction at the
water line itself, but rather at a distance. And all construction will
blend in with the area’s natural colors,” says Aharonov.
Twain had another complaint about the Jordan: “We knew by our wading
experience, however, that many streets in America are double as wide as
the Jordan.” But the seasonal situation Twain observed at the end of
eight rainless months is now the default status of the Jordan, due to
the pumping of water since the 1960s from the Sea of Galilee. Connected by the diminishing Jordan to the Sea of Galilee, the unique Dead Sea
is drying up too, a matter of great concern to those who love this
landscape. Israel is considering various solutions to the problem, and
Aharonov says the best would be to implement existing plans for
desalination plants on the Mediterranean, so more water could be
released into the Jordan, “The Jordan is more than a hydrological
resource,” Aharonov says. “It is an irreplaceable symbol for
Bible-loving people around the world.”
the Jordan River and driving south along the main road (Highway90) to
the Dead Sea, don’t miss another of the region’s gems, the monastery of
Dir Hijleh (possibly from Beit Hoglah of Joshua 18:19, once of the
border points of the tribe of Judah).
the shady courtyard, you may find Christian families from Nazareth
picnicking at one table and a Jewish desert study tour at another.
Inside the church, which dates from 1885, the altars are adorned with
snapshots of the sick, left there by family members hoping for miracles
of healing associated with the monastery’s founder, Gerasimos, a leader
of the early movement of Christians to the desert. This massive movement
was born of the desire to go back to the simplicity of the first
Christians, a present-day aspiration that is sure to lead many visitors
to this pristine part of the most famous river in the world.
to the Jordan River must be pre-arranged. Ask your travel planner to do
so by calling the Megilot Regional Council at 02-994-5000. Visit the
council website at www.dead-sea.org.il.