Our return to Israel in 1988 was to Eilat, the southern gateway to the country. This is sited on the old camel route from Syria to Egypt, and was the crossing point of African pilgrims journeying to Medina and Mecca: Moses and the children of Israel are thought to have stopped here. We were able to explore not only this nautical region, but also the desert territories of Sinai and the Negev. We stayed in the Yotvaala Kibbutz and enjoyed sea-viewing from the underwater observatory and glass-bottomed boats, together with SCUBA diving off the reef. Some of the group set off on camels to cross the Sinai desert to St Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai – no doubt they were thinking about the burning bush and the Ten Commandments. They were able to examine the precious scrolls and icons of the monastery.
Our programme for the visit included Bruckner’s Mass in E,Vivaldi’s Gloria, unaccompanied choralworks, the Unfinished and Little Russian Symphonies, and Berlioz’ Nuit d’Ete. We gave an outdoor concert, of predominantly Viennese music. One of the concerts was given in the University of Beer-sheva; we thus had the experience of climbing northwards through the mountains, looking back at the breathtaking views of the deep canyons with their red Nubian stone containing its pockets of malachite (Eilat stone). The area was initially inhabited by the Canaanites and the Tinma Valley, just north of Eilat, housed the Pillars of Solomon. Solomon is reputed to have given the Queen of Sheba a copper mirror from the nearby mines.