Picture yourself in a world of darkness, groping around, not knowing where - or what - anything is.
You're lost in a hopeless, unsolvable maze. Are you near a wall, a door? Are you about to bump into something? Your only hope is to trust in the skills of your guide, an all-seeing miracle worker who can somehow navigate her way through total darkness.
Last month, I finally got to visit the blind museum in Holon. Okay, it's not really called the blind museum. Part of the Israeli Children's Museum there, it's an exhibit called Dialogue in the Dark. And it’s been on my “Israel Bucket List” for about ten years, since I first read about it in a magazine.
Your own personal Virgil
When you go in, you enter a world of total darkness. You leave everything behind in a locker – glasses, keys, phones (except a small amount of pre-counted money for the snack bar).
Luckily, you're given your own Virgil, a blind guide who knows her way around like the back of her hand.
Your guide is the only thing between you and despair. On the website, they show a group of people using white canes, but we weren't given the choice of using canes. Our guide, Michal, just told us to stick our hands out ahead of us to feel our way around.
You meet your guide once you're already in the darkness. You do a quick once-around to introduce yourself and where you're from, and then you're off. Michal strode off confidently, saying, "come to my voice," reassuring us that there were no obstacles that we could trip over.
Hoping you won’t get hurt
In the world of darkness, there are plenty of ways to get hurt. Luckily, most of those ways are minor: bumping into tables or street lamps. Finding your body suddenly flopped up against the hood of a car (fortunately, not a moving car).
Some of the participants panicked at first, resorting to a noisy system of echolocation, calling out each other's names to find each other in the dark. Gradually, after Michal shushed us repeatedly - it's supposed to be a multisensory experience, but that's hard to accmoplish in a din - everybody got into a rhythm and relaxed a little.
Michal led us through six areas: a forest, a cabin, a boat ride, a market and street scene, a music room, and a cafeteria. In every area, she stood by the door, ushering us in, calling out our names - which she'd memorized - to make sure we were all there.
Each area was big and spacious and felt just like the real thing. In each area, she had us feel our way around and call out what we had discovered there (chairs, a phone, some fruit, a motorcycle). She, of course, had memorized the whole place.
Dialogue with our guide
The last stop was the cafeteria, where Michal took snack and drink orders (no hot drinks; we clumsy sighted people couldn’t be trusted with those) and made change. Then, we all took seats around a table, where we could ask her anything we've ever wanted to ask a blind person.
The questions were pretty predictable, but surprisingly open as well. People asked how old she was, how she became blind, and if there are any other blind people in her family.
One question I imagine she gets asked a lot is, "Do you want people to help you when you're out in public?" The answer, generally, was no. She can get along on her own; blindness doesn't cripple her. If you see a blind person who seems stuck, you can ask if they want help, but don't just offer help because they're blind.
At the very end of the tour, we finally stepped out into the light. We had already met Michal, of course, but this was our first "meeting" - for the sighted participants, it was their first time actually seeing her. (This was my cue to run to the locker to hunt for my glasses so I could see her. Even out in the light, I was still nearly blind.)
What’s the goal of the experience?
When my sister did the tour a couple of months ago, she said "She was not what I expected." Michal is short, blonde, and - of course - blind, which means that the world of light makes little difference to her or where she points her eyes.
There are many Dialogue in the Dark exhibits worldwide, including in Singapore, India, Germany and Malaysia.
According to Wikipedia, besides creating employment for people who are blind or who have low vision, the goal of Dialogue in the Dark is that “Placing themselves in the care of a blind person allows people to understand the strengths and potential of those they often assumed to be weaker and less able then themselves.”
It does that job very well. You will probably find yourself thinking HARD about what disability really means. As my sister said, it’s not exactly a barrel of laughs, but if you’re anywhere near Tel Aviv and you’re looking for a thoughtful and out of the ordinary way to spend an hour or so, Dialogue in the Dark is a wonderful way to do it.
Tickets are 65nis each, or 52nis for handicapped, students, soldiers and seniors with the appropriate Israeli ID card.
Who’s it appropriate for?
When my sister went, she took my ten-year-old daughter. I went with the older kids, 19 and 20, and it was a nice “together” alternative to the usual touristy kinds of things (and a way to spend time with them phone-free for an hour!). There’s a depressing little café on the Children’s Museum site, but you can easily pair the experience with lunch in Tel Aviv, which is what I’d recommend. It’s just a half-hour bus ride away.
(To get there, running late due to train problems, we actually took a cab from Savidor train station in Tel Aviv and it only cost 70nis for 3 people.)
The experience is for ages 10 and up, and I’d strongly recommend not trying to sneak in younger children, as it can be pretty scary in the dark (the Children’s Museum has other exhibits for younger kids). However, all-adult groups are welcome as well, despite the name “Children’s Museum.”
But don’t just show up! Tours – available in English or Hebrew, and I’d recommend English unless your Hebrew is perfect – must be booked ahead of time through the Children’s Museum website.