Walking on top of the world on top of Masada
by Marcie and Tony Aiuvalasit
It’s 8:30 AM on Shabbat and we are not in temple! Instead we are on our way to Masada to experience our rebellion against the Romans. The day is beautiful- a cloudless sky of shining blue above the Judean Hills. We cross into the “Territories” passing a mosaic of Jewish and Arab communities awaiting ultimate “settlement” by a permanent boundary. Palestinians, Israelis and Tourists share the only road past Jericho and south along the western coast of the Dead Sea. Across the sea the MoabMountains of Jordan are the backdrop, Royal Date Palms are the foreground. We pass caves 4 and 5 of the Dead Sea Scroll discoveries and then are treated to the exceptional sight of a herd of ibex strolling along a ledge next to the road. The leader is a large male with a billy-goat goatee; younger males and many females – one of whom Ellen is convinced is pregnant. One female has a plastic bag stuck all around her muzzle that if not removed will end up killing her. Our guide Muki makes a valiant effort to subdue and rescue her, but her fear of man dooms her.
Arriving at our destination, we board the cable car and minutes later are on top of Masada, a huge Herodian fortress that was excavated by Yigal Yadin. Muki leads us past Herod’s palace, views of the Roman camps below, the water system and more while narrating the story of the Jew’s last stand against the Romans in 73CE that ended when those fighters decided that they and their families would rather die by their own hands than be taken as slaves by the Romans. Husbands killed their families and ten men were chosen to kill the other men and the last man standing would fall on his sword. Rabbi Goldsmith discussed this choice and its moral questions and compared it with another choice made by Rabbi Yochanon ben Zakkai to escape Jerusalem as the city was falling and with his sages re-establish Judaism and a religion of learning rather than sacrifice at Yavnah – one group fighting to the death and another adopting a new way forward to rebuild a people. As he has been doing throughout this amazing week, he gave us so much to think about.
Our next stop was less thinking and more doing! On to the Dead Sea! Some of us relaxed in the sun and others took the plunge. Ellen, Marlene, Jane, Hinda, Bill, Marcie and Howard covered in black mud floated together photographed by Susan, Jen and Tom. Temple website here we come!
After a chance to rest and pack (for early start tomorrow) we gathered in a meeting room at the hotel to hear from Professor Paul Liptz an Israeli sociologist. Muki’s South African accent prepared us for Paul’s accent from Zimbabwe. Paul described the socio-economic breakdown of Israeli Society from the top 15 families down through the bottom 3% of society that is seemingly invisible due to their poverty and undocumented status. The facts and figures flew fast and furious and the group asked some important questions at the end of the presentation. Rabbi Goldsmith then led us in a brief havadalah ceremony marking both the end of Shabbbat and the end of our time together in Jerusalem.
Everyone then went off for dinner on their own. The intrepid (and not too over-tired) among us then headed to the Western Wall Tunnels. This tunnel burrows under the OldCity tracing the continuation of the Western Wall. The impossibly large stones of the wall, the impressive cisterns, and the dramatic setting gave us, once again, the sense of history all around us.
We can head up north to the Galilee tomorrow knowing that we’ve done a great job exploring Jerusalem to the fullest!
Muki tries to save an ibex with a plastic bag over its mouth
Jane gets ready to ascend Masada on the cable car
Marylin and Arthur exploring Masada
Joanne ready to enter Herod’s Palace on Masada
Hinda and Bill enjoying Masada
Barry gazing down at Herod’s palace on the northern edge of Masada
Jen ready to enter the baths at Masada
Ellen and Marlene enjoying the view from the top
Marcie and the pigeon holes atop Masada
Ellen and Marlene find a piece of home at the base of Masada while Muki looks on
Jen, Marylin and Barry enjoying the Dead Sea beach
Marlene and Ellen make sure that the Rabbi gets into the spirit!
Our Dead Sea swimmers
Our guide through the Western Wall Tunnels, Nimrod, showing us the geography that underlies Jerusalem and the Temple Mount
Examining a stone at the base of the Western Wall that is estimated to weigh 600 tons… how did they move that into position?!
Our intrepid crew of Western Wall Tunnel explorers