Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Nissan 5765 - April 20, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Touring Safely: Bein Hazmanim Perils

By R. Kolin

Bein Hazmanim is again upon us, and the balmy spring weather beckons us to travel to far-off places, to fill our lungs with the aroma of the wondrous blossoming flowers, to feel each rock and get to know each place in Eretz Yisroel.

Be that as it may, however, there's simply no way to understand the impulsive desire of some young men to "conquer" impossible trails and "do" river beds by backbreaking hikes: just to show off perhaps, or to "feel" the advent of spring. Such hikes have ended in tragedy on more than one occasion — not to mention the great spiritual dangers awaiting at every bend of the trail. Gedolei Yisroel have absolutely forbidden yeshiva boys to take such hikes: time and time again. The dangers lurking on hikes and on the roads that gain impetus at this time of year: in the spring.


A group of twenty-something yeshiva boys from Jerusalem were trodding down a path through a wadi (a river bed) in the Judean Desert. It was during last year's pre-Pesach bein hazmanim. Although it had been a relatively rainy winter, that wadi was dry. The day was a scorcher: 38 degrees (100F) in the shade, and the desert sun beat down unrelentlessly on the boys. Although they had brought some water with them, their meager supply soon dwindled. . .

And then there was nothing left. They found themselves in the middle of the trail without a drop in their bottles and canteens. The unbearable heat only got worse as the afternoon wore on, and their steps became heavier. The enthusiasm with which they had begun the hike quickly dissipated, and only one question remained: to get out of this nightmare, somehow.

The nightmare did end, but tragically, and much later than planned. And the price was too high, way too high. Towards the end of the route, one of the hikers, a twenty-year-old boy in his prime, suddenly didn't feel well. He managed to tell his buddies that he was "dizzy and weak" before collapsing a few seconds later, losing consciousness. One of the other hikers immediately tried to summon help on his cell phone, but precious moments passed until he was able to contact the pertinent authorities and describe their location.

His efforts were to no avail. The young man was niftar, a few minutes later. All the rescuers could do was to take away his body and convey the rest of the dehydrated, shocked hikers to hospital for medical attention.

Unfortunately, this is but one of many tragic incidents that happen every year, especially during vacation times. Gedolei Yisroel have vehemently expressed their opinion time and time again against tiyulim of this nature. But every bein hazmanim, there are those who simply can't stay away from the same dangerous trips.

Maybe hearing about some of the tragic events that have taken place in Israel's Southern as well as Northern routes can alert potential travelers and help them make the right decision: not to take hikes that lead to ruin, mourning and pain.

Spring is Here; Hikers Beware

"During the last couple of weeks, since the weather warmed up, we've seen no small number of incidents wherein hikers have been hurt," says Shmulik Shapira, director of the Safety and Security Department of the National Parks Authority. "Among other incidents, we were called upon to rescue some hikers who had lost their way; were out in the dark; who had fallen and broken legs, etc. The truth is, no day goes by without incident. But the toll is naturally higher when there are more hikers around.

"Spring is considered to be the best hiking season: in the winter it's too cold and in the summer it's too hot. So in the spring there are the most hikers out there, enjoying balmy weather and watching the flowers blossoming. Nisan is also the time of bein hazmanim, when chareidim are traversing all over the country, from North to South."

According to Shapira, most of the hikers — in the general population as well as from the chareidi sector — are totally unprepared and do not take even the most elementary safety precautions before setting out on a tiyul. It is such complete irresponsibility as well as disregard for the most basic safety measures that causes such tragic accidents year after year, according to Shapira.

"I just don't understand it," says Shapira. "Why do 15-20 people have to lose their lives every year and at least 100 get hurt? Why do we have to handle 400 rescue operations every year? Believe me, from my hands-on years and years of experience, I can tell you that most of the incidents could have been prevented if the parties involved were just a bit more responsible! Have you ever seen any reasonable person drive on a red light, endangering both himself and all others around him? Do we cross major highways without looking?

"People have to understand: just as there are laws and rules for city dwellers, there are laws of nature. Someone who is not used to the outdoor life and is physically unfit shouldn't take a hike that is too much for him to handle. Every single person has to understand this."

We can tell that Shapira is speaking from the depths of his heart. And it's not hard to understand why. He's seen too much throughout his career. Too many deaths and injuries resulting from pure negligence on the part of hikers. "If those injured had merely studied the simple instructions posted at the entrance to every site, many lives would have been saved."

To Fit in with the Scenery

Not paying attention, according to Shapira, sometimes means terrible irresponsibility.

"Do you want an example of complete irresponsibility? There was a story of a group of kids who went on a tiyul with a guide in Nachal Zin, in the South. The guide went up the path on the marked trail of the wadi, but suddenly — to this day we don't know why — the whole group got off the marked tail. He went up with all the boys — twenty-five in all — to the top of a cliff. Then, with some kind of crazy notion, he explained to himself that he wanted to "fit in with the scenery." Even before he got the words out, one of the boys, a fifteen-year-old, slipped from the cliff and fell down some seventy meters, and was killed.

"Another incident: A few months ago, a group of hikers on the Golan Heights made its way along one of the marked trails. They passed a fenced-in area with clear warning signs: `Danger: Mine Field.' One of the boys, a wise guy, entered the fenced-off area and stepped on a mine. The result of this prank? He lost his leg.

"These stories are typical of the common phenomenon of not following the most basic of directives: to walk along marked trails only, and never to stray from the marked paths for any reason whatsoever. If the guide had followed this simple rule, the terrible tragedy could have been prevented. If the young man had not entered a mine field, as he had been warned, he would not have lost his leg."

Shapira has tons of examples of disasters that occur every year because of carelessness. Some of the incidents happen because hikers attempt perilous treks by themselves.

"Someone going on a solo hike is simply endangering his life. Let's say that our hiker is physically fit and well acquainted with his route. Let's say that he has a cell phone with him. But all this will be of no avail if he gets bitten by a snake, for example, or collapses from heat exhaustion, or experiences any other kind of trouble. Such a hiker has to know that he is alone, and if anything happens to him, no one can help him.

"In addition, a lone hiker is at risk for security reasons. In the Judean Dessert, for example, local Bedouin residents roam around, and they know the area like the back of their hand. A lone hiker is easy prey for them, and can be robbed and/or physically harmed."

From Shapira's account, we can conclude that most accidents on tiyulim happen to teenagers or young men. Young men are naturally impulsive and tend to take things such as safety precautions lightly. The excitement and levity of a tiyul can easily lead to tragedy, lo oleinu. Even for the best boys.

Dangerous Water

One of the most dangerous problems on tiyulim involve water sources.

"Last summer," Shapira says, "a Bnei Brak family went on a hike in Nachal El Al in the North. At a certain point, part of the family came to a place on the trail with a pool of water. The father and three of the kids started to play in shallow water. Suddenly one of the kids ventured out into water that was a few meters deep. The drop from shallow to deep water was sudden, with no warning. Neither the boy nor his parents knew how to swim, and the boy started to drown. A hiker reached them within a few minutes, and a rescue squad was summoned and arrived after fifteen minutes. But it was too late. The boy drowned.

"On another occasion, a group of hikers — illegal residents, we found out later — descended into one of the pools at Ein Gedi which was about three meters deep. One of the men, who didn't know how to swim, dived into the pool and started to drown. His friend wanted to save him and jumped in after him — but he didn't know how to swim either! The two of them held on to each other and drowned together! The rescue squad reaching the place had nothing to do but to declare them dead."

The streams in both the north and the south of the country are known for their deceptive depth. Even if a particular waterfall looks deep, it can turn out to be shallow. Sometimes the depth of a stream can have extreme variables, and change from one step to the next. This fact, which young men simply refuse to internalize, is one of the greatest dangers hikers face.

"Another danger when dealing with water, especially at this time of year," Shapira notes, "is the phenomenon of flash floods in the south. Hikers can be going along their merry way on a completely dry river bed when they are hit by a forceful stream of water. Such flash floods come without warning, and sweep away everything in their path. No human being can possibly stand up to their force.

"That's why we repeat over and over: check out weather conditions before going on a hike. Certain areas carry weather warnings, when there is a danger of flash floods. Our safety instructions just have to be followed to the letter, for a nice day can suddenly turn from sunny to chilly to flood conditions, and an innocent hike can turn into a death trap.

"At the beginning of winter, we had a horrible case. A female hiker simply refused to listen to our wardens and stubbornly insisted on staying in a flood-ridden area. In the middle of a night towards the end of October, heavy rain fell in the south and, within one particular half-hour, 150 millimeters (6 inches) of rain accumulated! This caused tremendous loss to the Dead Sea Works ($40,000,000!), to local agriculture, and to the trails in the area. We still haven't managed to fix all the trails that were damaged, among them the popular Flour Cave which is still closed, and Nachal Tamar.

"After the floods subsided in the early morning, the National Park Authority wardens set out to close the road by Nachal Tse'elim, since it was in immediate danger of flooding. They were astonished to see a woman emerge from a 4-wheel-drive vehicle and start to take pictures of the floods! They shouted out to her to leave the place immediately since it would be flooded in a matter of minutes, but she refused to listen. The road was in fact flooded within minutes, but `our heroine' was lucky enough to be left in the middle of a small island and this saved her from certain drowning. But because of her obtuse adventure, we had to rescue her by helicopter. And you know how much it costs to rent a helicopter? $48,000 an hour!"

Robbing the Rescue Squad

Indeed, many hikers couldn't care less about the tremendous expenses incurred in both money and manpower when they have to be rescued. Rescuing people is one of the most difficult and complicated tasks in the State of Israel — or anywhere, for that matter. Rescue teams have to save people in distress who are impossible to reach in conventional ways, because of disasters of one kind or another. They often have to rescue people who have been injured during hikes along trails or river beds in the North or South. And that's not what these units were set up for.

Did such chevre'men, "brave" hikers, ever consider the consequences of their dangerous, frivolous actions? Maybe some of them really are aware of the potential dangers they may face along the trail, but prefer to depend upon miracles and/or on rescue teams to help them when necessary. But most do not give the most fleeting thought to the hard work, sweat, tremendous efforts and costs incurred by the rescue teams. How much was invested in forming each unit, and how hard their daily tasks really are.

Many hikers don't even bother to consider how many days they could save if they didn't put themselves in such dangerous scenarios.

While rescuers are busy saving lost and injured hikers, they can't take care of their routine tasks, and that's how even more people lose their lives.

The list of "routine" rescue activities — we shouldn't know from such things — is a long one: horrific traffic accidents, where people are trapped in their vehicles, wounded or worse under metal ruins, building collapses, and fires. The rescue units throughout the country were formed to take care of these type of disasters, not to rescue daredevil hikers who have succeeded in endangering their own lives.

Most members of the rescue teams, by the way, are volunteers, and have themselves taken the initiative to set up their units.

The largest and most well known rescue units belong to the Israel Defense Forces, working under the auspices of the Homeland Security Division. Team members are well-versed in varied methods of rescue. They undergo advanced training, enabling them to rescue wounded and trapped persons from wreckage, from skyscrapers — from the foreseeable, tough spots.

The IDF teams employ the latest (and most expensive) equipment, including helicopters, climbing and wind-surfing gear, and the like.

Such equipment carries a massive price tag. Unit soldiers, scattered throughout army bases around the country, are in a constant state of alert, twenty-four hours a day. They manage to rescue many, many people every year, in Israel and outside of the country too. But the units' commanders never stop complaining that they have to stop everything and run to rescue irresponsible hikers who have incurred the wrath of nature.

According to them, most of these rescue missions use a helicopter, and such a rescue costs hundreds of thousands of shekalim. It adds up to hundreds of millions of shekalim annually. That's besides the horrible fact that many people simply die because of a lack of manpower.

So, hikers: Please don't be hasty! Before setting out on a treacherous hike, you should consider the fact that it's not only your lives that you are endangering. The price of your "good time" may be too high: your life, and that of others.

Crazy Drivers

The traffic up North was relatively light. The G. family from Bnei Brak made its way towards Meron, in the car they had rented especially for their bein hazmanim trip. Rav G., a law-abiding, careful driver, Mrs. G. next to him, and six kids in the last two seats. The atmosphere was festive, and the kids were excited about the glorious day awaiting them.

Suddenly, on one of the road's dangerous curves, a car appeared from the opposite direction. The guy was driving like a madman. The speed limit on this section of the road was 40 kilometers per hour, but the driver was driving at least three times that speed. Rav G., startled and confused by his sudden appearance, tried to steer his car out of the way.

He was successful however, but only partially. There was a head-on collision, but the impact was less than it could have been. The other driver, a young, foolhardy boy, was slightly injured. One of the G. family children was slightly injured in the head and the rest of the family was slightly injured and suffered from shock. The rented car was badly damaged, and cost thousands of shekalim to fix.

Because of Hashem's mercy, this turned out to be a relatively "minor" accident. But in many cases, the ending is much, much worse. Besides the dangers a hike itself entails, we have to consider how we get to the starting-off place. Israel's roads are themselves dangerous places, even for the innocent.

The roshei yeshiva have forbidden bochurim to take driving lessons, but a few do have drivers' licenses. And how's their driving? Well, mostly like you would expect from young, carefree boys who are given responsibility that they can't handle: too wild and too fast. Shortsighted and careless, they don't consider the damage they're likely to cause themselves and others. Every such trip with a happy ending is an open miracle. Every year, horrible traffic accidents happen. And lessons aren't always learned.

Let's hope that this year, our bochurim will refrain from endangering themselves and others, and all hikers will give serious consideration to safety precautions before setting out on a hike, so that this hike not be their last. Let's pray that we all merit a safe, enjoyable, and fruitful bein hazmanim!

Safety Tips from Yosemite Search and Rescue

Expect trouble, but don't expect a rescue. Be responsible for yourself by going prepared. In addition to learning to recognize the pitfalls, the right gear and planning is in order. (Adapted to Israeli conditions.)

How to prevent becoming lost or injured

Before you leave:

* Know your route and the forecast

* Leave your plans with a friend

What to take:

Basic items per person (even for a short hike); don't let someone else carry your stuff. Let the smaller children carry their own light, whistle, etc.:

* Flashlight (plus spare batteries and bulbs)

* Plenty of water (at least 3 liters of water per day per person)

* Food

* Watch

* Pen/paper

* Whistle

* First-Aid items (Band-Aids, elastic bandages, etc.)

* Your medicine

* Decent footwear

* Compass (make sure you know how to use it!)


* Fire starter (matches, fire ribbon)

* Knife

* Emergency shelter

* Map

How not to get lost

Know the common pitfalls. Watch for examples. Get into the habit of checking behind you periodically, to recognize your backtrail. Learn to watch for the first hint of disorientation.

If you become lost, how to get found:

* Leave the following with a friend: your plans, route, vehicle description and license #, recent photo, sole pattern and size, scent articles, gear description, and who/when to call and your cell phone number.

* If separated, yell, whistle, stop and listen.

* Adults: STOP. Learn your surroundings, explore carefully, and be able to return to the last known point (pick something nearby that you can recognize at a distance, e.g. a rocky outcrop).

* Sometimes it's better to stay put, sometimes to move, but know when to turn around or stop, and be willing to do so. Down hill or down stream is not always the way out (there are often cliffs and waterfalls).

* Check your own pulse, recognize haste. Be willing to sit all night if you have no light. Even with one, off-trail travel at night can be risky. If you have to find or make a shelter, or gather firewood, do it before dark, not during.

If you can not get out on your own:

* Stay near an open area, for visibility

* Make a signal: a brightly-colored pack, artificial patterns such as tracks in the snow, a signal mirror (not any old mirror), a flashlight, aerial flare, or fire at night and smoke by day (but watch that fire!)

If a member of your party is missing:

* Search for him or her, but preserve tracks, scent articles (clothing, pack, etc.), belongings, witnesses, point-last-

* Send for help, with a clear, complete, accurate report. Your report should include an exact location, what happened, if there is an injury, the missing person's medical background, if they are conscious, able to walk, etc.,

Keeping Perspective

The vast majority of hikers never get into trouble and we're not advocating that you carry a 50-lb. pack every time you go out in your back yard. Agencies like ours (Yosemite Search and Rescue) may have a warped perspective because we only meet the unfortunate minority. But in their cases, just a few pieces of gear and/or lessons learned might have made a big difference.


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